The Story of the 100E

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BACK TO BASICS: The 100E trim level was only offered in 1989.

The 1989 Audi 100E is a one-year only trim level of the 100 Series exclusive to the US market. When Audi refreshed the C3 platform and renamed the vehicles to the 100/200 Series, the 100E served as the entry-level full size offering, replacing the previous year’s 5000S.

Audi hoped to regain some traction in the full-size luxury sedan segment after dealing with the infamous unintended acceleration scandal, which first gained national attention in 1986. The refresh, which consisted of nearly 1,500 changes (many of which were due to a fully redesigned interior), was planned for the US regardless and launched in Europe in mid-1988. The requirement to shelve the 5000 name in the US market, however, was not. The 100 name had not been used since the first generation C1 vehicles, which completed their run in 1977 and were replaced with the C2 5000 series in 1978.

For 1988, the base 5000S sedan had a sticker price just north of $22K. A manual transmission was standard-issue; a 3-speed automatic was available at additional cost. Surprisingly, 5000S models did not come from the factory with a radio, but in the United States, very few dealers sold them without adding one as a dealer accessory. Add other popular equipment like power leather seats, metallic paint, and a sunroof, and the base 5000S easily jumped to $27-28K.

Market research from 1988 showed prospective shoppers considering a 5000S were also looking at other full-size competition such as the Nissan Maxima, Volvo 740 GLE, Acura Legend, and even the Pontiac 6000 STE. Even with steep discounts, the 5000S was still more expensive than the competition when similarly equipped with automatic transmission.

This wouldn’t have been as much of an issue if the refreshed 1989 100 Sedan, with the aforementioned 1,500 changes, came in at a base price of an astronomical $27,480 before options – and yes, before optional automatic transmission, too. Even last year’s budget-minded 5000S shopper could get a bare-bones model with automatic for well under $25K before incentives.

And to understand the pricing issue, we have to bring the B3 to the discussion as well. The 80 and 90 Series started right below $20K for the pokey FWD 80 with a 2.0 4-cylinder, all the way to a 90 Quattro which neared $27K. Even a FWD 90 with automatic transmission was $26K – not enough of a bargain for a 5000S shopper, who isn’t looking at purchasing a smaller car anyways.

The 100E was supposed to be the answer to the problem: Audi’s full-size sedan with an automatic transmission already included. With a base price of $25,230, it was meant to bridge the gap between the well-equipped, but smaller 90, and the better equipped, but much pricier 100.

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 these features:

  • ABS (Optional)
  • Electronic Climate Control (Manual)
  • Front Center Armrest
  • Leather-Wrapped Steering Wheel
  • Rear Headphone Ports
  • Power Sunroof (Manual)
  • 5-Speed Manual Option
  • 15” Aero-Style Alloy Wheels (14″ Steel w/ Covers)
  • Active Auto Check System
  • Zebrano Wood Inlays
  • Front Seatback Magazine Nets
  • Rear Passenger Headrests
  • Engine Bay Illumination

Audi never defined what exactly the “E” stood for, but “Economy” or “Entry” is the best guess. “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 1989 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 and not even have one on the lot.
  2. The 100E was scarce to begin with, and is barely mentioned in press publications and brochures. Many dealers never even received a 100E in their stock.
  3. Though the 100E could be ordered in any available color and cloth interior option, the majority were Alpine White over Quartz Grey, as metallic paint would have been optional and driven up the cost (which was not its purpose).
  4. The 100E, with its wheel covers and austere interior appointments, may have been less suited to American tastes and come off more as a big 80 than an econo-100.
  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.

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.