“The Value Sell”

The 1989 Audi 100E was a one-year only trim level of the 100 Series exclusive to the US market. I have owned one and found that information elsewhere was lacking, so I decided to do a writeup to fully explain why the model existed.

Please note: My 100E became a retired show car has been combined with Edelweiss  (a regular 1990 100) to create a unique build. While I have added specific E bits and pieces, he still features upgraded equipment that would not have been available on a true E trim vehicle. The information on this page does not outline that build, you can go here to learn about Edelweiss.

When Audi refreshed the C3 chassis and renamed the 5000 to the 100/200 Series, the 100E served as the entry level full-size offering meant to replace the basic 5000S.

In hopes to regain traction in the US market after the infamous unintended acceleration scandal, Audi marketed the new 1989 vehicles as consisting of 1,500 changes (mostly due to a fully redesigned interior). The refresh was planned regardless of the scandal: Europe began receiving refresh vehicles in mid-1988. The requirement to shelve the 5000 name in the US was not: A true “100” had not been here since the first generation C1 vehicles, which completed their run in 1977 and were replaced with the C2 5000 in 1978. This would also be the first time the US would see the 200 name appear as the upscale offering, replacing 5000’s CS trim level.

To understand the 100E, it is important to look at the 1988 model year. A base 5000S with no options had a base price just north of $22,000. A manual transmission was standard-issue: the 3-speed automatic had always been additional cost on base 5000S models – automatics weren’t standard either on CS Turbo (though standard on the earlier S turbo from 1984/85) and automatics were not available with quattro vehicles.

Also factor in that even in 1988, the 5000S did not have stereo as standard equipment, and all options such as power seats, leather, metallic paint, and a sunroof were costly. The reality is that most of the manual-transmission 5000S models only lived in brochures and not on the roads – few dealers ordered and stocked basic models. Add aforementioned options and the base 5000S reached base 5000CS Turbo territory at $27K.

In my possession is an interesting pamphlet distributed in 1988 through COMNET – Audi’s communications system that provided sales bulletins to dealers and salespeople. It is called “Audi 100 – the Value Sell” and goes through what’s new and different about the 1989 100 models that would appear on dealer lots shortly. In Audi’s view, their market research showed consumers were cross-shopping the 5000S with a smattering of competitors – such as the Nissan Maxima, Volvo 740 GLE, Acura Legend, and even the Lincoln Town Car and Pontiac 6000 STE. Heavily discounted or not, the base 5000S was still more expensive than most of these cars, and consumers didn’t like the fact that an automatic was costly, optional equipment.

This wouldn’t have been as big of an issue if the refreshed 1989 100 sedan didn’t sticker at a base astronomical $27,480 before options. And again, the automatic transmission was not standard, requiring another $1,000 to be added to the MSRP. 1988’s budget Audi shopper could have easily purchased a bare-bones 5000S with the sole automatic option for less that $24K.

And to understand the pricing issue, we have to factor in Audi’s newly-introduced B3 80/90 Series, which also saw a massive price jump compared to 1987’s 4000 offerings. Whereas one could purchase a bare-bones FWD manual 4000S for under $16K, $500 more for an automatic. The FWD manual Audi 80 started right below $20K, with the optional automatic pushing into $21K. Like the 4000S predecessor, it was mated with a larger but still weak 4-cylinder engine. The range-topping Audi 90 quattro neared $27K before any options, representing a nearly $6K jump from the 1987 4000CS quattro. If you needed an automatic but wanted fully-featured, the regular front-wheel-drive automatic 90 had an MSRP of $26K. The 90 was not a compelling choice to the entry-level 5000S consumer in both price and size, though some chose it due to being better equipped.

Now the 100E comes into play. Remember the aeformentioned “Audi 100: The Value Sell?” The pamphlet covers the fact that, yeah, maybe the new 100 is not the best deal, especially to those who are new to the Audi brand. Salespeople are suggested to:

“Consider the 100E for customers who need a large automobile, yet are perhaps new to European luxury cars.”

The suggestions for the entire model range are somewhat humorous, especially the bullet point that affirms “The Audi 100s are much more than Audi 5000s with new interiors.” Change my mind, people.

Okay, so you show a potential customer a 100E. It’s the bargain model and is de-contented. Quickly in a buyer’s view – this supposed European luxury car looks like a big Audi 80 with it’s wheel covers, manual climate control, and lack of a front armrest and wood trim. 

Not all hope is lost: There’s an automatic transmission, and it’s standard equipment. With a sticker price of $25,230, it bridged the gap between the well-equipped but smaller 90 and the larger, but less equipment and pricier 100.

Was a standard automatic in the base model trim enough to solve this long-standing transmission-tragedy? Here’s what you received (and didn’t):

The 100E still shared these features with the regular 100:

  • 2.3L 5-Cylinder Engine w/ Electronic Fuel Injection
  • Power Windows, Door Locks, and Mirrors with Defog
  • Anti-Theft Alarm System
  • Serret Velour Interior
  • Audi Delta Radio w/ 6 Speakers
  • Power Steering and 4-Wheel Disc Brakes
  • Cruise Control
  • 10 Paint Choices and 3 Interior Colors

But removed all these features:

  • ABS (Optional, rarely equipped)
  • Electronic Climate Control (Manual controls from the 80)
  • Front Center Armrest
  • Front Seat Lumbar Adjustments
  • Leather-Wrapped Steering Wheel
  • Audi Duo-Sound Rear Headphone Ports
  • Power Sunroof (A manual unit shared with the 80 took its place)
  • 5-Speed Manual Option
  • 15” Aero-Style Alloy Wheels (14″ Steel wheels with covers from 80)
  • Active Auto Check System
  • Zebrano Wood Inlays
  • Front Seatback Magazine Nets
  • Rear Passenger Headrests
  • Engine Bay Illumination
  • Ski/Storage Sack (Optional, rarely equipped)

Other than optional ABS and the ski sack, you could add the cold-weather package (heated front seats, washer nozzles, and door locks) and clear coat metallic paint. If the 100E survived for the 1990 model year, an airbag package would be available that would also give you back the Zebrano wood trim.

Audi never defined what exactly the “E” stood for in it’s marketing materials, but “Economy” or “Entry” is most suitable. You could also argue “Euro” could be a possibility as well, as 100E closely mirrors a Euro-specification Audi 100 when equipped with 2.3L engine and Comfort Package.

Was the 100E a success? Hardly. Of the 10,499 MY1989 100/200 Series vehicles sold in the US, less than 5% (~525) were the E trim level.

Why did it fail?

  1. The 100E was often used as a bait-and-switch car, as dealers could advertise that they had a a $25K 100 with Automatic, leaving out the fact that it was the base E.
  2. The 100E was scarce to begin with and was never meant to be a high-volume trim and is barely mentioned in press publications and brochures. Many dealers never even received a 100E in their stock. It if as if Audi was embarrassed to move their bread-and-butter model downmarket.
  3. Though there were some equipment options, the 100E could be ordered in any available color and cloth interior. The majority were Alpine White, as metallic paint would have been optional and driven up the cost, which was not its purpose.
  4. With wheel covers and austere interior appointments, the 100E may have been less suited to American tastes. The equipment removed from the vehicle were mostly gimmicks/niceties, but in 1989, a vehicle that still doesn’t give you an armrest in this price range seems a bit odd. Of course, no Audi of this era still offered cup holders, either, so much like other German brands, they were a bit out of touch.
  5. A 100E was sometimes only a few dollars less than a smaller but fully equipped FWD 90, which shared the same engine and transmission and had the advantage of being lighter and more nimble. While this may have persuaded some to the smaller car, plenty of buyers not only looking for increased interior space but also a large trunk would be immediately turned off by the 80/90s ineffective, oddly shaped trunk. This lack of accommodation in the lineup could have turned buyers away from Audi all together.

For 1990, the 100 Series lost the 100E and similar deadweight 100 Wagon. Prices of the FWD 100 Sedan were slashed to a base price of $26,900, and now included a standard automatic transmission.