Lexus promises the hybrid-powered version of its RX 330 cross/utility vehicle and the '06 GS sports sedan, both unveiled at the Detroit auto show, will take the brand in a new direction.

Whether it needs a new direction is open for debate: Toyota Motor Corp.'s luxury division earned the title of top luxury brand in 2003 for the fourth-straight year with annual sales of 259,755 units — an 11% increase over last year's all-time high. The success largely comes from strong RX 330 sales.

The RX 330's leadership position in the luxury utility-vehicle market is expected to aid in this year's launch of its gas-electric hybrid-powertrain version, the Lexus RX 400h.

When it bows this fall, the RX 400h will be the world's first luxury hybrid. It will contain a revamped version of Toyota's Hybrid Synergy Drive system that also powers the Toyota Prius.

The '06 GS reflects a new, more sculptured design direction for Lexus — something that will migrate across the brand, says Denny Clements, Lexus group vice president and general manager. The redesigned, third-generation GS is decidedly sportier.