Edging out the Ford Sierra as the 1983 European Car of the Year, the 1983 Audi 100 had an aerodynamic look, achieving a drag coefficient of 0.30 for its smoothest base model. The increased aerodynamic efficiency resulted in better fuel economy, which was an effective marketing tool for Audi in the 1980s. The shape was a marked contrast from the boxy shape of the C2, an updated appearance commonly found in cars built in the late 1940s to early 1960s called “ponton” styling. Also of note was new technology introduced in the C3, including the procon-ten safety system.
Audi was able to follow up on the modern smooth look first seen in this segment on the 1967 NSU Ro 80 and popularised by the 1974 Citroën CX. This rounded look became the norm by the 1990s. It also set a styling trend of flush wheel covers, a thick black side door moulding and blacked out window frames eventually adopted by a range of cars such as the 1984 Honda Accord and the Chrysler K cars. Audi innovated flush windows on the C3, a key area for aerodynamic drag that has been adopted by virtually all manufacturers today. In addition to giving it better fuel economy its aerodynamic body gave the 100 higher top speed than other cars of similar engine size.
The two-door models were no longer available, and the Audi 100 Avant was reintroduced as Audi’s first attempt at a station wagon based on the 100. The 200, launched in 1983 continued as the upmarket variant with several versions of the 2.2 L turbo 5-cylinder available in different markets over its life ranging in power outputs from 165 PS (121 kW) MC engine, through the 200 PS (147 kW) versions to the final 220 PS (162 kW) 20-valve 3B engine available from 1991. Due to its low drag coefficient, the 1983 Audi 200 Turbo had a top speed of 224 km/h (139 mph). The MC turbo engine was available in the 100 as well for some markets.
The 1991 200 20V was distinguished by its flared front and rounded rear wheel arches instead of the flat type used for the rest of the 100-200 range, this allowed wider wheel and tire combinations to be fitted to 20V models. For many markets, the 20V Audi 200 gave customers a taste of performance levels that would later be seen in the C4-Chassis Audi S4, and S6. US Magazine articles of the period reported 0-60 times of the 20v Audi 200 under 7 seconds, with 1/4 mile times in the mid to upper 15 second mark.
The 100 also featured a 2.5 L straight-five direct injection turbo-diesel (TDI) model with 120 PS (88 kW) introduced in January 1990 (engine code 1T). A such-engined Audi 100 was the very first model to wear the now ubiquitous and hugely successful TDI label that changed the perception of diesel engines all over the world. It had a brief career in the C3, being replaced in December of that year when the C4 arrived.
Reported sudden unintended acceleration
During model years 1983–1987, Audi’s U.S. sales fell after a series of recalls of Audi 5000 models associated with reported incidents of sudden unintended acceleration linked to six deaths and 700 accidents. At the time, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) was investigating 50 car models from 20 manufacturers for sudden surges of power.
In North America, television broadcast network CBS produces a news program called 60 Minutes, which aired a report titled Out of Control on November 23, 1986, featuring interviews with six people who had sued Audi after reporting unintended acceleration, including footage of an Audi 5000 ostensibly displaying a surge of acceleration while the brake pedal was depressed. Subsequent investigation revealed that 60 Minuteshad not disclosed they had engineered the vehicle’s behavior – fitting a canister of compressed air on the passenger-side floor, to pump fluid via a hose to a hole drilled into the transmission — the arrangement executed by one of the experts who had testified on behalf of a plaintiff in a then-pending lawsuit against Audi’s parent company.
Audi initially responded by suggesting that the drivers of the cars involved in the incidents were at fault, because they had stepped on the accelerator pedal rather than the brake. Subsequently, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) concluded that the majority of unintended acceleration cases, including all the ones that prompted the 60 Minutes report, were caused by driver error such as confusion of pedals. CBS did not acknowledge the test results of involved government agencies, but did acknowledge the similar results of another study. Audi’s research demonstrated that many of the drivers who encountered “unintended acceleration” were “below average in height”.
In a review study published in 2012, NHTSA summarized its past findings about the Audi unintended acceleration problems: “Once an unintended acceleration had begun, in the Audi 5000, due to a failure in the idle-stabilizer system (producing an initial acceleration of 0.3g), pedal misapplication resulting from panic, confusion, or unfamiliarity with the Audi 5000 contributed to the severity of the incident.”
This summary is consistent with the conclusions of NHTSA’s most technical analysis at the time: “Audi idle-stabilization systems were prone to defects which resulted in excessive idle speeds and brief unanticipated accelerations of up to 0.3g [which is similar in magnitude to an emergency stop in a subway car]. These accelerations could not be the sole cause of [(long-duration) sudden acceleration incidents (SAI)], but might have triggered some SAIs by startling the driver. The defective idle-stabilization system performed a type of electronic throttle control. Significantly: multiple “intermittent malfunctions of the electronic control unit were observed and recorded … and [were also observed and] reported by Transport Canada.”
With the series of recall campaigns, Audi made several modifications; the first adjusted the distance between the brake and accelerator pedal on automatic-transmission models. Later repairs of 250,000 cars dating back to 1978 added a device requiring the driver to press the brake pedal before shifting out of park. It is unclear what was done regarding the defects in the idle-stabilization system. As a byproduct of the Audi scare, vehicles now include gear stick patterns and brake interlock mechanisms to prevent inadvertent gear selection.
Audi’s U.S. sales, which had reached 74,061 in 1985, dropped to 12,283 in 1991 and remained level for three years. – with resale values falling dramatically. Audi subsequently offered increased warranty protection and renamed the affected models — with the 5000 becoming the 100 and 200 in 1989. The company only reached the same level of U.S. sales again by model year 2000.
As of early 2010, a class-action lawsuit — dealing with a charge that on account of the sudden acceleration controversy, Audi models had lost resale value — filed in 1987 by about 7,500 Audi Audi 5000-model owners remains unsettled and is currently contested in county court in Chicago after appeals at the Illinois state and U.S. federal levels.
The lawsuits surrounding the reported sudden acceleration episodes were subject of Peter W. Huber’s 1993 book, Galileo’s Revenge: Junk Science In The Courtroom.
The engine range comprised the following engines:
Note that most engines comes in a variety of flavors – see more details under the discontinued VAG engines.