Should You Buy a Car With a Dual-Clutch Transmission?

Should You Buy a Car With a Dual-Clutch Transmission?

In the quest to find a new car, there are a lot of questions that need to be asked. Questions about cargo room, technology, options, luxuries and other various elements will come up more than a few times while shopping for a new car. However, from the car driver’s perspective, there are just three main questions: 

How comfortable is the driving experience? 
How fun is it to drive? 
How good is the car on fuel?

A major factor in answering those three questions has to do with the right transmission. Let’s face it, manual transmissions aren’t for everyone. They require familiarity and a level of perfection to get just right. With a traditional automatic transmission, drivers have been able to experience a fairly comfortable, yet less engaging experience. Still, an automatic transmission can leave any driving enthusiast unsatisfied. Luckily, progress has been made in the world of automatic transmissions that can help alleviate those woes.

The latest trend in transmissions is the Dual-Clutch Transmission, or DCT. Dual Clutch Transmissions have been around for quite a while, especially in high-powered performance cars, but the technology has been steadily making its way into more everyday driver consumer cars.

 DCTs are a lot like manual transmissions, except they have two clutches, and no pedal to control them. What this means is that there’s less interruption of power when shifting gears. It works like this: as you’re driving along, the car has already selected the next gear, so when it’s needed, it just does a quick change. No need for disengaging and engaging the clutch. The whole gear change takes just milliseconds to complete, much quicker than a manual transmission.

To compare, the average person’s time to shift a manual transmission ranges between half a second to a full second. Regular automatic gearboxes have traditionally taken much longer and even though some modern units, like those from Mercedes-Benz, can shift in as little as 100 milliseconds, there’s often still a delay between driver input and the gear shift. While shift times vary depending on the gear chosen, Volkswagen’s DSG unit can upshift in just 8 milliseconds.

Many DCTs can operate in two modes, a fully automatic mode, so the car’s computer chooses when to changes gears for you, or a manual mode, which lets you select gears via buttons, steering wheel paddles, or by moving the gear stick. The DCT in the end is an ideal candidate for a driver who wants to have an engaging manual like driving experience when they want it, and a comfortable automatic transmission for more mundane driving.

The first passenger car to have a DCT was the 2003 Volkswagen Golf R32 (top). Other car companies have jumped on board with the DCT technology, offering it as an option on many cars. The technology seems to suggest that DCTs are a great idea for high-performance cars, where precision gear-changes are necessary, but how do DCTs act on your regular passenger car?

Ford’s version of the DCT, called Powershift, has been available on the Fiesta, and Focus for a little while now, and has encountered a few snags. Drivers found that the shifting is not as smooth as they expected. Additionally, there was some slowness in the selection of the next gear, especially when trying to accelerate at lower speeds. These issues aren’t just present on Ford’s DCT. Some drivers call VW’s dual clutch solution jerky too, especially in slow speeds.

Those minor quibbles about DCTs, however, are nothing compared to the issues that have plagued single clutch sequential gearboxes. DCTs are significantly smoother than single clutch units, prompting a switch by companies like Ferrari and BMW.

Richard Truett from Ford explained what the future holds for their DCT. “We are continually working to refine and improve the dual clutch transmission, so that when it changes gears the sensation won’t be any different from a traditional hydraulic step-gear transmission,” he said, acknowledging past criticisms.

Volkswagen is upbeat though. Mark Gillies, manager of product and technology communications for VW says, “The future looks good for DSG, because it combines the ease and convenience of an automatic transmission with the fun-to-drive element of a manual and because it doesn’t have an energy-sapping torque converter, it usually gets better gas mileage than a conventional automatic.”

He also adds, “We are very happy with the technology and feel it gives us a unique selling proposition, particularly on our TDI and sporty vehicles.” To date, Volkswagen has sold 3.5 million cars with their dual clutch transmissions.

Are DCT’s an ideal option for every car? Truett tells us there are a few places where a DCT just won’t work. “Dual clutch automatics don’t make sense for some vehicles, such as our Super Duty pickups.” Truett added, “A dual clutch transmission works best in a vehicle where fuel economy is the top priority. So, you are likely to see dual clutch automatics in our global small cars.” 

So if you’re looking for a sportier feel in your daily drive, but want the ease of an automatic, a DCT is a great choice. It’s far more responsive than a traditional automatic or a Continuously Variable Transmission, and brings comparable fuel efficiency. DCT’s can be a good blend of performance and fuel economy, but that ratio depends on the manufacturer and the car. Some are much better on gas than manual or traditional automatic, while others can be more performance oriented.

Either way, try it out yourself when deciding if it’s truly better for you.

  • Manuals are not difficult to learn and do not require the levels of precision this article intimates.  I have been driving a ‘stick’ since I was 12, where I learned on a 1978 Ford Bronco with a V8.  It was easy.  the driver simply has to care to learn.

  • martinn

    not difficult but clumsy,outdated and less safe than distracts driver’s attention while shifting. and even most experienced drivers could stall a manual car occasionally.a highly risky previous cars were manual past twenty years.for the last 4 years I’ve been driving auto.what a comfort.

  • If more people drove manuals, there would be less people texting and making calls.

  • I like a dual clutch.Yes its different than a torque converter auto. But with that said. Its really up to the individual. Hate to say this but the fluid converter trannies will be long gone in the not too far distant future. All in the pursuit of MPGs. Ford has issues . But they have worked out most bugs.Its ok i guess .Its what I drive. It was odd at first drive. But after a while it got better and gets better every mile. Time will tell.

  • I cant figure how anyone could text and drive. Are they octopuses? I cant see how it can be done. Or why?. Rather run up on a drunk. got a better chance of getting away unscathed.

  • But when you get old like me. that auto looks better.

  • Gffhh

    If you can’t drive a manual safely, you dont deserve to be driving one. Stick with your noob tranny.

  • Hot Rod

    I learned driving on a manual stick and have had a number of cars that were stick shift. That said; modern automatics are far superior to manuals: no driver fatigue (esp in heavy traffic), no missed shifts, faster, smoother shifting with no torque loss (thanks to planetary gears), and better efficiency. With a clutch in the torque converter, the torque converter is only used when the car is stopped. A driver would have to operate a manual gear box very carefully to match the economy of a modern, computer operated automatic. Drag racers have been using automatic transmissions for many years. The first version was known as the Clutch-Flight; this was a Chrysler Torque-Flight with a slider clutch fitted in place of the torque converter and valving modified to produce near instant shifts. This gave shifts with no loss of torque transmission and eliminated driver shift errors. The automatic could shift faster than a human driver and perform with consistency.

  • J

    gffhh …Ive drove longer than youve probably been alive. just sayin, its 2012

  • Carlababcock

    I rented a Ford Focus with the Powershift and the MPG’s were awesome  (better than my Cruze).
    Do we know yet if durability is a concern?

  • Pr51sux

    hot rod I like the 904 or 727 torque flight………You showing your age though.
    Ah they were the best trannies ever devised!

  • Pr51sux

    Yes they had issues . But ford is working on it. There is a tsb 12b37. Its not perfected yet. But it improved it quite a bit. If these drivelines last as long as fluid type? . Well I dont know. But doubt it. Its too soon to tell.

  • Leckyman

    I drive a Renault with their EDC dual clutch transmission and I can’t fault it. It’s smooth and responsive. Blip the accelerator and it kicks down to give you a nice bit of acceleration. I believe the Renauly EDC and Ford’s Powershift are both designed by Getrag  in Germany.

  • With a little bit of practice, you don’t have to think to drive a manual.  It’s like anything else, your muscles build memory and your ears and butt will listen/feel for shift points. You will be doing the same with an auto trans after a few thousand miles.

  • I have a 2012 Ford Focus Titanium. The dual clutch transmission on it SUCKS!! The car used to buckle every now and then when shifting gears. Its been better however when i accelerate from a stand still going uphill the car lags in power. When I step on the gas pedal I expect the car to give me the power immediately and this car don’t always do that. I’m considering trading it is for a 2013 Hyundai Elantra Coupe SE

  • Manbo

    The Elantra will give you more punch when you put your foot down, but the engine is made out of cardboard. I started having engine issues after 15k kms, but that was on a 2011, so hopefully they have made the engine a bit more robust…

  • Dee

    Nice blog!

  • lancaster100

    Truett should fired for saying that a DCT is not for Super Duty pickups. Super Duty’s would more than benefit from using a DCT transmission over the traditional automatics. Most Semis don’t have traditional automatics because they lose too much power, which also reduces fuel efficiencies. Come on Ford, partner with Eaton-Fuller and develop a DCT for the Super Duty and you would have a better truck.

  • N

    For what it’s worth, I’ve been driving a ’11 Fiesta for more than 40,000 miles. The DCT shat the bed & has had to be completely replaced twice. Since day one, shifting at low speeds causes a godawful grinding noise and the whole vehicle shudders (this is especially bad when trying to accelerate from a complete stop). Planning to dump the damn thing as soon as the extended warranty runs out.

    Luckily (for other people?), from what I’ve heard, these are problems specific to the Ford PowerShift. TL;DR, avoid Ford/Volvo – especially models earlier than ’13.

  • roger

    for the open road– highway or rural areas– there is nothing like a manual transmission for quiet, responsive, efficient, smooth, trouble-free driving. but try driving that stick shift in an hour long line of traffic to the holland tunnel, and the romance is gone. forget about the wear on your clutch, the wear on your left knee will extract a vow of never again. if you drive mixed city/highway like i do, it’s the city situation that will control the choice of transmissions, and that’s too bad because then you lose out on the benefits of solid linkage when on the highway. DCT is optimal because it solves the holland tunnel problem and still gets you the benefits of solid linkage on a more open road. if you don’t do city driving at all, then for most drivers what is there to talk about? learn to drive a standard, save money, and have more fun.

  • Ford Sucks

    I have a Ford Focus with a dual-clutch transmission and it is the worst car I have ever owned. The clutch needed to be replaced last summer, and it has failed again, but Ford is refusing to fix it this time. I even had the dealership refuse to replace the clutch if I pay with my own money. They know how messed up these transmissions are, and they don’t want to deal with me after I spend $1500 for a new clutch and it’s still not fixed.

    I know the clutch will fix it, though… but Ford refuses to warranty it a second time, and the dealership refuses to replace it as customer-pay. So I’m stuck with a lemon car. Consulting with lawyers next week. It’s unbelievable that my money is no good to them!

  • hdude

    Funny you should say that, as i find those so-called modern manu-matics (like tiptronic) to be tedious and unintuitive when shifting them in manual-mode. And if you’ve ever had long enough experience with a manual transmission… wouldn’t be calling them clumsy, as driving one becomes nothing more then a second nature thing. Not saying you can’t or won’t ever stall a vehicle, but they should defnitely be a rather rare occurence, and usually in stop/go or slow moving traffic situations where there is alot less risk. And lastly…you may think shifting gears manually is a distraction, but the fact you have to forces the driver to focus more on their driving and lessens the potential of dozing off behind the wheel. And if you know how to shift properly… SHOULDN’T even have to think about what postion your gear stick is in or what gear is needed for the situation. Me thinks you have very limited experience with driving manual.

  • Luigi90210

    that is exactly what i am thinking, i daily drive a manual transmission car and i have no problems shifting and paying attention to the road, it literally is like second nature to me, i always know what gear i am in just by feeling where the stick is located, my RPM, and me speed

    i think it is pretty sad when automatic drivers try to justify why they dont drive a manual with lies like that

  • Kelvink

    I used to have citroen cx’s and they had a 3 speed manual box with no clutch, they were excellent apart from the gearing

  • Jim Policke

    You also need to do some research as to what kind of clutch your car comes with, wet or dry. Most Fords & Fiats are using dry clutches, whereas VW has a wet system. The VW system may last longer but the maintenance is significant. The fluid must be replaced every 40,000 miles. The dealer will get $400+. To DIY you need 6 liters of DSG fluid at $20 each, a new filter, an adapter to attach to the drain plug, and a USB adapter with software to connect to the car’s diagnostic port to take the trans’ temperature (so you know when the level is correct). The trans drains and fills from the bottom, kind of a PITA job, but the life expectancy of the dry clutch packs is a big question mark.

  • kolac

    I bought a 0 KM VW with DSG transmission,This car has 900 km now and It has DSG problems.Stay away from the DSG transmissions.

  • Roger Rosato

    Yeah… germans don’t know a thing, let’s stick with automatic 30’s technology, thats the future… ¬¬

  • Roger Rosato

    Not every DSG is “oil bath” ones. Audi A1 uses a dry version of the gearbox. People say it’s spikier than the oil ones, however offering more “pure” manual feel… and cheaper to maintain.

  • Roger Rosato

    Anything is better than those ordinary torq-thirst automatics of up to 6 speeds. The only automatics I would consider are the ZFs AT8 or AT9 that actually delivers same-to-better performance and fuel consumption than manuals. They are SO expensive, however… let’s hope DCT keeps spreading quickly.

  • ProvideFacts

    Germans don’t know a thing?? That’s why they dominate the car market right??? -_-

  • Roger Rosato

    That’s called sarcasm, Einstein…

  • Jim Policke

    Germans know plenty but they do not walk on water. If they did, Porsche would not have settled a class action for crap engines that eat their intermediate shafts and destroy themselves. My Jetta TDI should not have had a turbo and DPF failure within 75k. Go look up BMW cooling system problems and high pressure fuel pump failures. People buy German for the driving experience and make excuses for the poor durability and obscene repair costs.

  • Jim Policke

    The Audi is going for a more authentic manual ‘feel’, whereas the wet clutch is aiming to simulate the smoothness of a conventional automatic. There’s no maintenance on the dry clutch but longevity is still unknown. I have read reviews of dry clutch transmissions where the odor of burnt clutch was observed during aggressive driving. Anyway, your post backs up my statement that some advance research is needed. Don’t ask the salesman, they know squat or will lie to provide you the answer they think you want.

    As far as sticking with 30’s technology, just because it has a torque converter that doesn’t mean it’s old technology. Your granddaddy’s automatic didn’t have 8 or 9 speeds, a lock-up clutch pack, or computer-controlled electronic solenoids, and it didn’t beat the manual option (where available) in fuel economy.

  • Roger Rosato

    Good to know you’re well informed about DCTs. Most people just start attacking them or simply don’ even know of their existance, considering them ATs, which’s totally absurd.
    Now, I deffend DCTs because I personally think theyre the future of transmissions. You see you have mentioned ATs that are better on fuel than manuals… they’re quite rare, however, and also pornographically expensive. ZF AT8 and AT9 are the ultimate examples. In the real world, where AT6 is the usual and AT4 is still on scene, the performance and economy of ATs are considerably lower.
    I personally think its absurd having to pay €3,000 on a AT that delivers pratically the same numbers (only a tad better) of a manual and thats why I think this technology is in the end of its life. You see, DCTs needs less gears to beat manuals than ATs, consequentialy they are less complex and cheaper to produce… I have even read articles showing studies of ZF where they say the limit of efficiency on ATs lies on 8 or 9 speeds. So… they’re not getting much better than they already are.

  • Christy

    I totally agree with everything you say. I have been driving manuals for over 10 years and I will never go back.

  • I really like this post thanks for share……..very helpful post………

  • brian donovan

    I have driven dc, regular automatic and stickshift and can say this in my experience, dc is the most fun driving overall, stickshift is fun and has much better response but sucks in traffic, and automatic with torque converter is best for general driving, maintenance and such, Not knocking any of them ive only driven a few of each and that’s just my experience.

  • questionsreplies

    hello, any feedback about benz cla dual clutch? good experience? why new 2014 benz c class is not dual clutch .?

  • stickman

    If you buy new cars, you may not have a choice. The number of cars available with manual transmissions is dwindling, at least in the US. Audi dropped the manuals completely this year, and MB only offers it on the SLK250, which has a 1.8L, so what’s the point… I drive manual as well, and abhor driving with only two pedals, but I’m already having difficulty trying to find car with a manual transmission. Three or four years from now when it’s time to replace whatever I buy now, it’ll be even harder and then a few years later harder still. They’ve already removed manual transmissions from all full size pickups (except the RAM HD diesel). The selection is thinning and I don’t see that improving… maybe ever.

  • alan Peedle

    I have had my 7 speed A Class auto software upgraded because i complained on facebook it is dim witted, the upgrade changed the characteristics completely, eco is now semi sport and sport is like my old Honda Vtec, its makes the A200 quick, but fuel economy has taken a serious hit, now i can have fun in it, if i forget fuel. this upgrade is only available if u complain apparently according to service manager. Also it has a flat spot at 5.800 rpm in sport all gears, as if fuel gets cut…alan

  • Even talking on a phone is so much difficult without handsfree while driving a manual in city. When I drove automatics, calling was not a big deal (not without risks though).

  • Less Safe? A person who doesn’t know shifting will be distracted just like a person who doesn’t know how to drive and is searching for brake pedal. LoL. I see many drivers who are able to drive manual but they just do it in a horrible way. Stalling is by far a non-issue in driving manuals and there could be a range of disasters. Yes, it definitely needs more skill and those who love driving swear by manual shifts.

  • Strogg

    I’m thinking about a 2015 Audi S3 but I have always owned manual cars. Anybody have any positive input on the S3 transmission? Thanks!

  • hdude

    I just checked the Canadian Audi website. Manuals ARE still offered…on the A4/S4/A5/S5 and R8 line.

  • gbearman

    I found the DCT box on the KIA CEED is not fully automatic under all driving conditions and should be avoided if you require an automatic car. I am unable to understand why it is allowed for a crap DCT box to be called, AUTO this is very misleading .

  • gbearman

    I find the 6 speed auto box with torque converter on the KIA CEED crdi to be excellent and their DCT box to be absolute crap, it is not fully automatic but a semi-auto

  • Roger Rosato

    Have you compared with the manual version? What are the mileage figures of the manuals and the ATs?
    Saying it’s good without any base of comparison is totally useless…

  • gbearman

    I have no interest in manual cars, I have owned over 20 automatic cars ( & 23 manuals) from 3 speed Borg Warner boxes to the current excellent 6 speed on my Kia Ceed 1.6 CRDI auto, very fast take off, no turbo lag, easy engine braking best combo so far. overall 34 mpg. Despite many short trips ,no DPF issues. Hyundai have announced a new 7 speed DCT box when I asked Hyundai if the new box is fully automatic, they evaded my question and would not give an honest answer.. So I have to assume this new box is NOT FULLY AUTOMATIC coming in March on the face-lift Hyundai 130 and it must be called semi-auto, Definately not one for me.

  • gbearman

    I will no longer buy an overated German car, have had far too many problems with BMW & VW

  • MrFuriousa

    I’ve been driving a 2009 TDI Jetta with a DSG for over 6 years now, and it has been great as far as the transmission goes. I’ve had other major issues with the car, turbo failure, HPFP failure but the DSG has been very reliable. It is a little clunky at low speeds but that’s a minor issue. I could never drive a regular automatic now and the DSG shifts faster than I ever could.

  • Seb S

    Hey Strogg,

    Did you get the S3 ? If so, can you post any comments on the driving experience? I’m in the same boat and holding off on any purchase because I don’t like auto transmissions.

  • Cody

    By now DCTs have come along quite well. I’ve been driving a 2014 base model focus with one and it works perfectly. The fords were known to chew through transmissions before it, I got one after some programs were debugged. I’m sure the new ones will run even better. The jerky-ness is there, but it is really only there if you stomp and release the gas because the computer is constantly trying to figure out what you’re doing. If you feather the pedal like a proper driver would you’ll soon figure out that ‘sweet spot’ that causes the jerk and be able to avoid without worry. The only thing I don’t like about mine is the base model doesn’t have a manual mode.

  • Steve

    Be weary of DCTs. I purchased a 2014 Ford Focus with one and returned it two days later due to problems with its DCT. It seemed fine during the test drive but soon after is started jerking when accelerating from a stop, violently shaking when going up hills and making grinding noises. Though engaging, I don’t recommend DCT them for commuting because the are not very comfortable. Also, check reliability and reviews on DCT cars before you buy. The focus had tons of consistent bad DCT reviews. luckily I was able to return mine. I now happily drive a 2016 CVT Corolla. Works very well! Will never buy a DCT again. Also, please don’t buy a 2012-2014 focus. Be weary of the new ones too!

  • Andy

    Do not buy the Ford focus dct! I have a 2012 and it is terrible, it shakes the whole car, slips under medium acceleration and grinds all the time. Ford has ordered a new clutch but that takes 12 weeks to arrive and is not a 100% guaranteed solution for the problem. These transmissions are just a flawed design. Ford needs to recall them or retro fit them with a traditional automatic or convert to a true manual.

  • Bruce Scott

    Commenting from the future here. Problem still persists in the Focus LW MkII. Sep 2014 Ford issued an edict that they will extend trans warranties out to 5 years. There have been ecu updates that have helped in some cases. I watched one being rebuilt today. Leaking seals between the trans and clutch housing making the ‘dry’ clutch wet. Hence slipping, and surging. The trans of the future is still not here yet….sigh.

  • Petrol or diesel? I understand that the 1.5 diesel is actually a Renault engine?

  • 43 cars? Even David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo never owned that many vehicles…

  • Even the Germans will now admit that their vehicles are not the best. That crown appears to have been taken over by the Koreans in latter years…

  • Bill Stipek

    The Ford DCT has a huge class action lawsuit against it 2012 thru 2015 for the Focus! 2016 and 2017 probably the same, beware! It is a computer controlled manual tranny! Go figure!

  • Jimbo

    Haha, this guy had major a beef with Kia DCT based on a 15 min test drive. He went through a phase of attacking the DCT wherever he could, you can find his identi-posts everywhere. Seems to have got bored of it now though.

  • Blaster Master

    Dual Clutch transmissions can be good transmissions, but they require good software in order to perform reliably. Most of these problems can be solved by writing better software and providing updates to the current vehicle owners.

  • AJ Davis

    Should you buy a Ford with a dual clutch? My answer to this is “Do you think a colonoscopy without anesthetic is a good idea?”…..You are going to feel the same way! I wish I had never ever bought my 2012 Fiesta!

  • collaziano

    I did find that sweet spot you mentioned but it’s stupidly annoying to have to do that. I’d prefer a CVT to a DCT any day. Or for that matter, a regular automatic transmission – which would be my first choice.

  • Elle scooter

    Given that there is now a class action suit for owners of 2012-2016 ford focuses & several years on the festivas, the answer to the question “should you buy a car with dual clutch transmission” should have been HELL NO! “Drivers found that the shifting is not as smooth as they expected. Additionally, there was some slowness in the selection of the next gear, especially when trying to accelerate at lower speeds.” This is laughable. The cars have been shuddering when shifting, shifting spontaneously into reverse when driving forward, shutting down entirely, etc. I read about one fellow who had just won a lemon law suit against ford and his car caught on fire on the way home. Run and don’t look back.

  • Bill Stipek

    The Ford Powershift”, is the one of the worst transmission of all Time! There are Class Action Lawsuits World Wide on this Turkey! Not counting the 60,000 in the Pittsburgh Area Alone! They first tell you there is a breakin period where the Transmission has to get use to You! Unbelievable! If this is the case why do they sell these cars to rental car Companies? Hmmmm?

  • Steve Caruso

    They know how to cheat on emissions!

  • G.Bearman

    I have now been driving the latest KIA Cee’d 1.6 crdi 7 speed dct autobox for 14 months and it is EXCELLENT best autobox I have experienced in more than 20 auto cars, fast exceleration very economical 42 mpg combined.

  • Harry

    The dct isn’t the problem. Ford just doesn’t care about quality.