The Difference Between A DSG/DCT And A Standard Automatic

If you were buying a new car 20 years ago, there were not a lot of options when it comes to transmissions. Nowadays, however, things have changed drastically. On one side of the transmission spectrum, there is the old and trusty manual transmission. And although the manual transmission is slowly saying goodbye, many people still swear by it. On the automatic side of the transmission spectrum, there are multiple choices. You can either buy a car with a standard hydraulic transmission, a direct-shift or dual-clutch automatic transmission, or a car with a CVT automatic transmission. 

In this article, we will be focusing on the two most popular versions of the automatic transmission, the DSG and the standard automatic transmission. If you are choosing between these two transmissions, make sure you continue reading.

What Is A DSG Direct Shift Or A DCT Dual-Clutch Transmission?

A DSG or a DCT transmission is essentially a brand name for the automatic transmission that works on a dual-clutch, dual gearbox principle. A DCT transmission consists of two sub-gearboxes and a clutch pack. One of the gearboxes is responsible for shifting uneven gears, while the other gearbox shifts the even gears. The clutch pack is responsible for transferring the power from either of the gearboxes onto the output shaft. The gear shifts are incredibly fast and precise. 

To learn more about how the DSG transmission works check out our guide on How To Drive A Car With A DSG Transmission!

What Is A Tiptronic Or A Standard Hydraulic Automatic Transmission?

In our recent article on the most important automotive inventions, you could learn that the basic principle for the standard hydraulic automatic transmission has been implemented since the 1920s and popularized in the 1940s. Surprisingly enough, the same concept is still used today in cars like the BMW F30 3 Series, F10 5 series, and many other cars. 

A standard hydraulic automatic transmission uses a combination of a torque converter with a set of gear sets which provide the driver with 6 or more gears. The engine is connected to the automatic transmission via the torque converter which uses pressurized transmission fluid to deliver power to the planetary gear sets in the transmission. The torque converter is acting as the clutch in a manual gearbox which allows an automatic car to come to a stop without stalling. When the engine sends power to the transmission, the transmission pump converts this power into transmission fluid which in return fills the turbine of the torque converter. The pressurized transmission fluid is then rotated in the turbine of the torque converter and sent back which spins the central shaft of the transmission. All this power that is created by the rotation of the transmission fluid is then transmitted to the first planetary gear set. This is all made possible by an oil pump that pulls the transmission fluid or oil from the oil sump and sends it directly to the torque converter. The oil pump is placed in between the torque converter and the planetary gear sets. A planetary gear set is a group of gears that work with clutches and bands to transmit torque from the engine to the appropriate gear.

This is the least complicated explanation of the standard automatic we could come up with. There is no going around the fact that a standard automatic transmission is highly complex but at the same time, its construction has been perfected over the last 100 years of its existence which makes it incredibly reliable. To learn more through visual means, watch this Youtube video.

What Is The Difference Between A DSG/DCT And A Standard Automatic Transmission?

As you might have learned by now, the biggest difference between a standard hydraulic automatic transmission and a direct-shift, dual-clutch transmission is in their construction and the way they work. Here are some additional benefits of each transmission:

Benefits of a DSG/DCT transmission

  • Gear changes happen extremely fast
  • There is much less power loss in between gear shifts
  • The transmission is lighter, making the car lighter
  • Fuel economy increases through faster gear shifts
  • Manual shifting with paddles feels incredible

Drawbacks of a DSG/DCT transmission

Benefits of a standard hydraulic automatic transmission

  • With proper maintenance, they are incredibly reliable and tough
  • They are great for towing and off-roading
  • They offer incredible comfort with smooth gear shifts

Drawbacks of a standard hydraulic automatic transmission

Which Transmission Is Better, Tiptronic Standard Automatic Transmission At Or DSG/DCT transmission?

If we wrote this article 5 years ago, we would definitely be in favor of a standard automatic transmission like a ZF8HP or a Mercedes 9G. However, direct shift transmission has come a long way and those early DSG/DCT problems from 2010-2015 are a thing of the past. The truth today is that both of these types of the automatic transmission are good and reliable. The key thing to the long-term reliability of each of these transmissions is proper maintenance. Following the manufacturer’s maintenance plan is crucial. In some cases, like with DSG transmissions from Volkswagen, owners have actually realized that in order to avoid problems they need to shorten the predicted oil change interval. There are also many standard automatic transmission that comes with “life-long” transmission fluid. Again, this is a complete lie and all the transmissions in this world need a regular replacement of fluids and filters.

Which Transmission Is Right For Me, A Direct-shift or a Hydraulic automatic transmission?

In our opinion, choosing the right transmission comes down to your needs and the offering from the car model you are interested in. Both types of transmissions have certain qualities and problems, so doing your research before buying a car with either one is highly recommended! Let’s say you are buying a 2015 Golf 7 GTI. Start by Googling “Volkswagen Golf 7 GTI Transmission Problems”. You will be faced with a number of forum threads and blog posts depicting the problems with the DSG built into the Golf 7 GTI.

If you want a car that has explosive gear shifts, incredible fuel efficiency, low loss of power in-between shifts, and is great to shift with manual steering wheel paddles we advise you to choose the DSG transmission.

If you want a car that shifts smoothly, that is capable of serious towing or even off-roading, you should go for a classic hydraulic automatic transmission. But don’t think for a second that hydraulic transmissions are slow. The ZF8HP 70 is a classic example of an incredibly fast hydraulic automatic transmission.


Buying an automatic transmission today is much easier than it once was. Before you buy a car, you are able to do your own research online. Many people dodge “bullets” by not buying certain models of either DSG transmissions or standard hydraulic automatic transmissions. On the other hand, automatic transmission used to be much less complicated and there was less possibility for problems. But as the technology advanced and became more complicated, so did the shifting. Driving a new 9G automatic transmission from Mercedes really blows your mind when you compare a modern transmission to a 1990s automatic transmission. The same goes for DSG transmissions. The speed of gear changes is absolutely incredible.

About The Author