Bucking our recent trend of ordering possible every test car with a manual gearbox, we opted to equip our Four Seasons Volkswagen Passat TDI with the automaker's six-speed dual-clutch automatic. Why? For starters, we aren't enamored with the clutch in TDI cars equipped with manual gearboxes, particularly the one in our Four Seasons 2009 Jetta TDI.
I’m glad we chose the DSG over the stick shift.
But this choice was more than merely a personal preference: it also allows us to sample the transmission most Passat TDIs will be built with. TDI owners may skew slightly outside the bell-shaped curve of the automotive buying public, but America's drivers are still by and large a clutch-phobic bunch. Even those who aren't afraid of rowing their own gears may be coerced into the dual-clutch by way of equipment, as Volkswagen's content structure limits some options (i.e. a power sunroof, navigation, etc.) to cars built with the DSG.
How has the transmission faired thus far? Opinions are generally positive, with many staffers praising its quick, crisp shifts once the car in motion. Ironically, the gearbox's quirks -- and complaints -- mostly stem from how it behaves at low speeds.
"I'm glad we chose the DSG over the stick shift," writes senior editor Eric Tingwall, "but it doesn't feel as confident or as quick as this engine does with the [gas-powered] GTI. From a stop, the clutch is hesitant to engage, requiring a more deliberate push of the accelerator. This is particularly evident in reverse, as you've really got to dip into the pedal and hold it to convince the Passat you're not inching out, but moving a car length or more." Associate Web editor Donny Nordlicht echoed Tingwall's sentiments, noting the transmission "seems hesitant to engage" and feels clunky between shifts. "I guess it's the trade-off you make for lightning-fast shifts once you're under way," he opines.
Deputy Editor Joe DeMatio stumbled upon another quirk. "Every time I shift into park and let my foot off the brake, the suspension unloads, and the Passat rolls back seemingly several inches, rather than the small bit you'd expect from any car with an automatic transmission." The solution: listen to Volkswagen's advice, conveniently packed into the owner's manual.
"This is a common trait of all DSG transmissions," replies associate Web editor Jake Holmes. "That's why VW recommends drivers engage the parking brake while you're still in gear, and then select park and shut off the car. I do this by habit in any DSG car. Annoying, yes, but less so than a damaged transmission or scraped bumper."