How Dual-clutch Transmissions Work

Pros and Cons of Dual-clutch Transmissions
Audi TT Roadster, one of several Audi models available with a dual-shift transmission
Audi TT Roadster, one of several Audi models available with a dual-shift transmission
Photo courtesy Audi Press Database

Hopefully it's becoming clear why the DCT is classified as an automated manual transmission. In principle, the DCT behaves just like a standard manual transmission: It's got input and auxiliary shafts to house gears, synchronizers and a clutch. What it doesn't have is a clutch pedal, because computers, solenoids and hydraulics do the actual shifting. Even without a clutch pedal, the driver can still "tell" the computer when to take action through paddles, buttons or a gearshift.

Driver experience, then, is just one of the many advantages of a DCT. With upshifts taking a mere 8 milliseconds, many feel that the DCT offers the most dynamic acceleration of any vehicle on the market. It certainly offers smooth acceleration by eliminating the shift shock that accompanies gearshifts in manual transmissions and even some automatics. Best of all, it affords drivers the luxury of choosing whether they prefer to control the shifting or let the computer do all of the work.

Perhaps the most compelling advantage of a DCT is improved fuel economy. Because power flow from the engine to the transmission is not interrupted, fuel efficiency increases dramatically. Some experts say that a six-speed DCT can deliver up to a 10 percent increase in relative fuel efficiency when compared to a conventional five-speed automatic.

Many car manufacturers are interested in DCT technology. However, some automakers are wary of the additional costs associated with modifying production lines to accommodate a new type of transmission. This could initially drive up the costs of cars outfitted with DCTs, which might discourage cost-conscious consumers.

In addition, manufacturers are already investing heavily in alternate transmission technologies. One of the most notable is the continuously variable transmission, or CVT. A CVT is a type of automatic transmission that uses a moving pulley system and a belt or chain to infinitely adjust the gear ratio across a wide range. CVTs also reduce shift shock and increase fuel efficiency significantly. But CVTs can't handle the high torque demands of performance cars.

DCTs don't have such issues and are ideal for high-performance vehicles. In Europe, where manual transmissions are preferred because of their performance and fuel efficiency, some predict that DCTs will capture 25 percent of the market. Just one percent of cars produced in Western Europe will be fitted with a CVT by 2012.

Next, we'll look at the history of the DCT and see what the future holds.