Currently reading: DSG or manual? Which one should you choose?
Steve Sutcliffe and David Vivian lock horns - and you can have your say
3 mins read
15 May 2010

Steve Sutcliffe is a fan of paddle-shift DSG gearboxes, whereas David Vivian prefers a 'proper' manual shift.

So which is better?

You can watch our comparison video below, and read Sutcliffe and Vivian's arguments below.

When you've finished, don't forget you can have your say in our forum section.

Alternatively, watch the VW Golf R - DSG versus manual video here


David Vivian

This is an argument Sutters has already won. With his DSG-equipped Scirocco, he’s backing the future. A future the PlayStation generation will slot right into. A future of seamless, computer-aided upshifts and rev-matched, lurch-free downshifts. A future in which the business of changing gear swiftly and smoothly is idiot-proof.


But what needles me is the blithe assumption that the new generation of electro-mechanical, semi-auto, dual-clutch transmissions (DSG, PDK, M DCT et al) is a valid substitute for doing it yourself and, without equivocation, a Good Thing. All right, against the clock they’re better than you, me, Sutcliffe and Walter Rohrl. Mere flesh, blood and synapses can’t compete with 80-millisecond powershifts.

Eventually, like most Americans, we’ll forget how to change gear with a stick and a clutch pedal. But not today. Just getting from my house to Beachy Head Road in East Sussex has required hundreds of manual gearchanges. Well, maybe not required; some of them were purely gratuitous.

And that’s my point. In the right car – one in which the gearchange and clutch action, and the positioning of the brake and accelerator pedals, have been honed with as much care as the camshaft lobe profiles – slotting the ratios yourself isn’t a chore. It isn’t a distraction, or an onerous chunk of manual labour that detracts from the purity of the driving experience. It’s the one unassisted, truly interactive mechanical operation left to the driver.

Transferring the energy of the engine to the driven wheels via meshing cogs and plates, by means of a lever and a pedal, requires a degree of skill. And if you’re into driving, who wouldn’t want to be physically (rather than merely cerebrally) involved in the process, the human component at the fulcrum of the drivetrain? It’s a prospect to relish, surely?


Steve Sutcliffe

Dual-clutch gearboxes are not the future, as David Vivian suggests: they are the present. And apart from one glaringly obvious issue – they cost a small fortune to engineer and therefore ain’t cheap as an optional extra – there just aren’t many other reasons not to love ’em.


Dual-clutch gearboxes are quite staggeringly brilliant at what they do. And even when it comes to the subjective argument, I just don’t buy into the ‘manual is best’ reasoning.

For starters, the pro-manual argument falls apart if the manual in question is anything other than a very good one – and there have been plenty of rubbish manual gearboxes over the years, featuring heavy clutches with awkward biting points and gearlevers that wobble around like spaghetti.


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Then there’s the false notion that there is no particular joy in operating a dual-clutch gearbox manually; for me, it’s just not valid. You can have oodles of fun and get just as much ‘connection’ out of a good DSG.

Dual-clutch gearboxes don’t merely leave you, the driver, to sit there and watch the action unfold, after all. To get the most out of one, you must interact with it in much the same way as you would a manual.

Dual-clutch gearboxes are, in their way, every bit as involving as manuals. If anything, by removing the boring bit (having to engage and disengage a clutch), it could easily be argued that dual-clutch gearboxes are more fun. They’re certainly more efficient, because they allow you to focus on what matters most – namely, when precisely to change gear.

The full Sutcliffe versus Vivian argument can be read in the latest issue of Autocar, on sale now.


Join the debate


15 May 2010

[quote Autocar]Steve Sutcliffe is a fan of paddle-shift DSG gearboxes, whereas David Vivian prefers a 'proper' manual shift.

So which is better?

You can watch our comparison video below, and read Sutcliffe and Vivian's arguments below.

When you've finished, don't forget you can have your say in our forum section.

...Read the full article[/quote] I've only ever driven one DSG car a Skoda Superb oil burner. The car was "superb", but I'm sorry the DSG bit didn't do it for me. So of course I prefer manuals, right? Nope, the flappy paddles on my 135 M Sport Coupe seem ideal to me. I do want to feel the gear change as I wack down a few cogs coming into corners. Maybe that's because I did 14,000 miles in a Smart Crossblade that never had the courtesy of telegraphing what gear I was allowed.

15 May 2010

Steve Sutcliffe:

"Dual-clutch gearboxes are, in their way, every bit as involving as manuals."

Where'd ya dig that one up from Steve.

Efficient? Yes, incredibly.

Involving? No, not at all. Especially the VW DSG controls with their tiny 'click click' paddlettes.

You suprise me Steve. Has age caught up?

15 May 2010

This is an interesting debate with great passion on both sides. So why does Autocar, through its editor Chas Hallet, keep proselytising that the future will actually be electic cars for all, where the most interaction a driver will enjoy with his car will be the pressing of the 'go' button, in his gearless milkfloat?

15 May 2010

I am really sick and tired of reading or hearing those useless arguments. As a manual fan who would buy only manuals as long as manufacturers keep offering them, I never question the preference of automatic lovers because it is just a matter of choice and choices are not always bound by numbers, statistics or superiority. They should understand that we are very happy with our clutch pedals and stop trying to make us believe that theirs is the way to go.

I wish Mr.Sutcliffe and the likes joy and happiness with their DSG's, Tiptronics or whatever.

And Mr.Vivian, please keep writing about how nice you feel driving proper manuals without getting involved in such arguments or making comparisons and we'll keep supporting you.

15 May 2010

Nick, because no doubt about it, we can't keep burning oil forever mainly because it'll eventually run out and if your a believer of global warming then well all need submarines anyway, so it's logical to assume that the next generation will driving around in electric cars. The technology is rubbish at the moment and doesn't come close to the performance or conveinience a fossil fuel burner acheives today but in the future the technology will be better and well probably look back not believing how rubbish our cars were in comparison. Batterys will become easier to manufacture, they'll become lighter and more energy efficient. We can also sustain our transport economy by switching over to electric. It is the future. Or hydrogen which personally I'd prefer to be honest.

15 May 2010

[quote lukemedwayuk]then well all need submarines anyway,[/quote] I look forward to that day. Ever since Jacques Cousteau I have always fancied submarine travel, the one we "used" had green credentials as it ran on batteries. /Users/stephenbiggs/Desktop/IMG_3417.jpg

15 May 2010

Just when you thought VW couldn't make their cars any duller, they reduce driver involvement even more! Just what you want from a (_the_?) sporty hatchback.

Press a button, 60mph.
Press a button, 60mph.
Press a button, 60mph.

Thirty-two thousand of your earth pounds for a 4-cylinder hum? The Focus RS was heavily criticised for it's lack of 4WD but at least it has the right sound track.

Any chance you could review it in its main habitat? Specifically commuting.

15 May 2010

Like someone on here already stated. DSG is just a preference/options and weather it's better than manual or not is relative. DSG may get round a track quicker but manual drivers may have more fun doing it and vice versa. As long as it is kept an option then that's fine! On another note, why aren't your videos uploaded to a channel on YouTube, you could reach so many more viewers and you could make them compatible with the iPhone! I notice this forum strips out my paragraph spacing on my iPhone too! Annoying.

15 May 2010

I'm sorry, but David Vivian's argument just doesn't cut it, and isn't the PlayStation analogy a bit stale now?

I have never ever said to myself hmm I would like more 'feel' from the gearbox! I leave feel to the engine and steering thank you very much.

Yes, manuals can be very fun - on the right roads and where there's no traffic. As someone who commutes for an hour a day for work purposes a manual is absolutely no fun at all - just tired feet.

An automated dual-clutch gearbox like DSG gives the best of both worlds - can slot to auto for the daily grind, and rip through the gearbox myself when I feel like.

Steve wins this argument outright - and I will say it now - the pure manual gearbox is an endangered species that won't be missed.

15 May 2010

I must admit I am watching with some trepidation the removal of more and more control from the driver in modern automobiles. This is contributing to the general decrease in skill in the driving population and an attitude on the car will save you rather than you the driver try to save yourself. In Europe and America driving standards and roads mean that seldom if ever you are required to take extreme action to save yourself. This not the case everywhere in the world and removal of the control you need will get someone killed. How could this be skeptics ask. Consider DSG for example. I am sure it will not allow you to pass the redline by say 700 rpm. In fact in most modern cars a rev limiter will prevent this. A few years ago I was over taking what I thought was one truck on a two lane road with no real shoulders. Some distance ahead was a rise that prevented one from seeing right down the road. No problem I thought put it in third and pass the truck. Unfortunately the truck was being towed by another slimmer truck, no on tow sign. Appearing over the rise was a third truck doing about 70 mph fully loaded with gravel on a road with a 50 mph speed limit. No shoulder, couldn't fit between the trucks because the chain was too short, couldn't brake back and get in behind the first truck. Solution: slammed it into second without lifting and buried the throttle, over revved the engine by about 6-7 hundred rpm in second and got missed by a coat of paint. DSG or a rev limiter would have killed me. I suppose cars are manufactured where crime is low and people are law abiding. They are not always sold where this is the case.


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