2012 Volkswagen Beetle Long Term Road Test

2012 Volkswagen Beetle Turbo: Automatic or Manual?

September 5, 2012

2012 Volkswagen Beetle

Personally I can't quite figure it out.

The specifications sheet says the VW Beetle Turbo's DSG (Direct-Shift Gearbox) is a high-tech, dual-clutch automated manual transmission.

But I can't figure out whether it's an automatic transmission or a kind of fast-acting manual with an automatic clutch.

2012 Volkswagen Beetle

Developed by BorgWarner and licensed to the Volkswagen Group, the DSG was the first dual-clutch transmission in a series production car when it was introduced in 2003. As I understand it, the BorgWarner engineer who led the project moved to Ricardo, where he developed the fast-acting dual-clutch transmission for the Bugatti Veyron (not an easy task for such a powerful application).

This makes the DSG sound like it's a performance-oriented transmission, doesn't it?  And that makes you think of a manual transmission, doesn't it?  That's certainly what I thought of automated manual transmissions when fast-acting single-cutch designs were introduced for Aston Martin, Ferrari and Lamborghini.

BMW has always portrayed the automated manual transmission as a manual-style performance device, first with the single-clutch design for the previous M3 and now with the dual-clutch design for the current M3 and new M6. Same with the Mitsubishi Evo, for which its Getrag-developed dual-clutch transmission was subsequently developed for BMW, Ferrari and now others.

But then you consider Porsche, which adapted its ZF-built dual-clutch automated manual to push-button control for the Type 997 version of the Porsche 911 because it considered the design to be an automatic transmission, a convenience alternative to the six-speed manual transmission. Of course, 911 enthusiasts immediately complained (much to Porsche's consternation) and the company was forced to develop an optional, high-performance shift paddle design for operating the PDK. The same arrangement continues for the Type 991 version of the 911.

So, is the VW's transmission an automatic or a manual?  The DSG is meant to shift very smoothly, so the shift action is a little slow to keep things unobtrusive. I think of it as an automatic as a result. Ford has had to tinker with its own dual-clutch transmission for the Fiesta and Focus to counter complaints of rough shifting, so the design seems to be thought of as an automatic for these cars as well.

There's no pattern emerging here, is there?  I like automated manual transmissions because of the quickness of the shift action, and I'm really not fussy about whether it's a single- or dual-clutch design, just as the difference between an Audi R8 and Ferrari California isn't really important. Without automated manual transmissions, exotic cars would be undrivable garage queens, just like they were for decades before the Ferrari 360 Modena and Lamborghini Gallardo.

It really seems like the whole issue has to do with our prejudices about the vehicles in which the transmission is installed. A dual-clutch automated manual in a Volkswagen is an automatic, but a dual-clutch automated manual in a Ferrari is a fast-acting manual. You think?

Michael Jordan, Executive Editor, Edmunds.com @ 5,166 miles

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