Friday, July 20, 2007

DSG Is The Future

The advent of new DSG (Direct Shift Gearbox) transmissions like the one available on VW/Audi products has led me to ask a question. Is this the end of the conventional manual transmission? In my opinion, it may be. I'll go even further and say that they will also replace conventional automatic transmissions as well. I'm sure many will disagree with me especially regarding the manual transmission. Yes, they have been predicting the demise of the manual for years and it hasn't happened yet. But I think that was because there were no decent options to replace it. At least not until now.

So far I have not had the opportunity to test drive a car with a DSG type of transmission, but all of the reviews I have read about them seem to suggest that they are the best thing since sliced bread. Now before I go further, lets discuss the operation of the DSG transmission compared to other types of transmissions. It is much more like a manual transmission in that it uses clutches that directly connect the transmission to the engine. A computer and solenoids are used to engage and disengage the clutches and to shift gears. Automatic transmissions use fluid pressure and clutch packs within the transmission to change gears and they have no direct physical connection to the engine. Instead they use a torque converter which has fluid in it and two turbines facing each other.

An example of how the torque converter operates would be to position two fans facing one another and switch one on. The air blowing from one fan will start the other turning even though it is switched off. The on fan represents the engine side and the off fan is the transmission side. The only transmission that really compares to the DSG type is what I'll refer to an SMG (Sequential Manual Gearbox) type. SMG was actually the name of the BMW version of this gearbox. Other companies have their own names such as Lamborghini's E-Gear and Ferrari's F1 gearbox. The SMG type is basically a conventional manual gearbox that uses a computer and solenoids to shift the gears and operate the clutch. The big difference between the SMG type and the DSG type is that the DSG uses a dual clutch setup instead of a single clutch like a traditional manual or SMG. This allows the DSG to be much smoother and quicker in upshifts because one clutch is for the even gears and one is for the odd ones. Therefore, during acceleration, the DSG has one clutch engaged for the current gear while the second clutch has already engaged the next gear up ready to switch over when told to by the computer. This happens lightning quick and very smoothly. It seems pretty neat. You can read up more on the DSG type of transmission here.

Presently the only DSG type of transmission available on a production car is the VW/Audi version. Just about every manufacturer is working on one of their own though and it's only a matter of time before we see lots more of them. From what I've read Nissan will introduce a version with the upcoming GTR, Honda is developing a DSG type for the Acura NSX replacement, Toyota is developing one for the upcoming Lexus LF-A supercar, BMW has one in development to replace their heavily criticized SMG tranny, Mitsubishi will introduce one in the Lancer Evolution X, and Porsche is also developing one presumably to replace their somewhat outdated Tiptronic automatic. I'm pretty sure most of the American manufacturers are also at work but I have nothing specific on their development so far.

I think it's a matter of time before these transmissions become the only choice in most vehicles. Everything I have read suggests that the DSG tranny is just as good as, if not better, in manual mode than the SMG type. The DSG also appears to completely blow away the SMG type when it comes to automatic mode where most of the SMG types have been criticized for being clunky and very jerky. Now where automatic transmissions are concerned, the DSG seems to be about as good and smooth as an automatic in full auto mode. In manual mode it's no contest as the DSG clearly blows away any automatic tranny in manual mode. I see no reason for the auto and manual trannies to stick around after the DSG takes hold. The only other choice of trans in the future will probably be the CVT (Continually Variable Transmission) for economy and mileage.

I really hope I'm wrong since I'm an avid manual transmission enthusiast. Or as my wife puts it, I'm a "manual snob". I can't stand automatics and I feel they have no place in any car with even a hint of sporty intentions. Forget about an automatic in a sports car. To me that is a sacrilege and it actually makes me angry when I see one. I look down upon those who can't or won't drive a manual. Unfortunately, here in the U.S., most people would rather sit back and let the car do most of the work. They want to be able to drive with one hand while eating, drinking, making a cell call and texting at the same time. I think driving a manual is quickly becoming a lost art form that a shrinking minority of us actually still enjoy. Even the automated manuals can't deliver the same driving satisfaction and connection to what the car is doing that a true old fashioned stick shift with a clutch pedal can.

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