German carmaker BMW AG has unveiled a longer, lighter version of its mainstay 3-Series midsize car.
It's the sixth edition of a vehicle that first went on sale in 1975 and has sold 12 million copies. The car is key to BMW earnings because it has the highest sales volumes in its model lineup, with 399,000 sold last year, or 32.6 percent of unit sales.
The new version is 93 millimeters, or 3 1/2 inches, longer, but up to 40 kilograms (88 pounds) lighter, and has more legroom for the rear seat passengers.
Some models come with a color heads-up display, which shows the speed and other information on the inside of the windshield so the driver doesn't have to look down. Other available technology includes a lane departure warning system and an eight-speed automatic transmission.
Marketing chief Ian Robertson called the car "the heart of the BMW brand" and the company's "long-term growth engine" at the unveiling Friday in the company's home base of Munich.
Analyst Marc-Rene Tonn at Warburg Research in Hamburg said the new model is an important part of the company's efforts to cut product costs since it will share parts with its bigger 5-series. He said that the 3-Series plays an important role in defining the brand because there are so many on the road, and because it is more affordable for people who might move up to a more expensive model later.
"The 3-series is decisive for the brand," said Tonn. "It's still the first BMW for many buyers, so it's a very important car for them."
The added technology is necessary to position the car in the higher-priced market segment, he said. "To defend the premium position you have to have the latest technology on board, you have to be able to offer gadgets the customer wants to have."
The 3-series goes on sale worldwide on Feb. 11. European prices for the various models range from euro35,350 to euro43,600 ($48,808 to $60,199).