I’ve just spent a week in a BMW M3 with the much-anticipated M-DCT dual clutch automated manual transmission, and although it’s impressive for what it is, I can’t help but feel that for all the hype about this technology, it’s ultimately not as satisfying as a traditional manual or even a good automatic.
The M-DCT, and dual-clutch transmission in general, is just the type of thing to dazzle automotive writers. There’s the excitement of a new technology and impressive stats to throw around. (For instance, the M-DCT cuts 0.2 second off the M3’s 0-to-60 time!) Carmakers often show them off at a racetrack—yes!—where writers can indulge their race driver fantasies, particularly since their laps aren’t timed. And it’s true, on a track, or even cranking along some empty, winding road, the paddle-shifted manuals are fun, with their instantaneous response, uninterrupted power flow, and rev-matched downshifts. But in real-world use, they’re less endearing. They’re slow to engage when shifting into reverse or first, and they’re not smooth when moving off from a stop. So they’re not as polished as an automatic. And when you’re not attacking some canyon road or diving into the corkscrew at Laguna Seca, it kind of feels dopey paddle-shifting your way around the access road at the mall. It’s like wearing a Nomex suit to go to the grocery store. Particularly when you just need to pop the lever over into Drive, and the gearbox will shift for you. With a real manual, you never get that ridiculous feeling—because you have to shift—and the act of shifting itself is also more involving, so you get the subtle, almost subconscious, satisfaction of doing something well. Sure, I’m happy to drive a dual-clutch gearbox on my next foray onto a track. But give me a real manual or a traditional automatic for those times when I’m leaving the Nomex at home.