Volkswagen Group's DSG Gearbox Explained

DQ500 DQG gearbox 1 photo
Photo: Volkswagen
Last year, we took an in-depth look at the Volkswagen Group's TSI engine family and how it was helping the German company and its sister brands achieve their goals. The guide got a lot of attention and we were rather surprised to see some misconceptions are still floating around. One reader told us we got it wrong, that a 1.2 TSI engine from the Polo is turbocharged while the 1.2 TFSI offered on the Audi A1 is supercharged.
So we thought that we'd have a look at another technology offered by most small or medium cars in the Volkswagen, SEAT, Audi and Skoda brands. It's probably even more famous than the TSI engine. The Germans call it Doppelkupplungsgetriebe, but everybody else who doesn't join three words into one calls it the Direct Shift Gearbox, or DSG for short.

Many car companies have started to use double clutch gearboxes on mainstream cars these days, following the lead set by the Audi TT and the Mk4 Golf R way back in the early 2000s. For example, Korean car company Hyundai plans to introduce a 7-speed unit on models like the i30 and Veloster. Both Ford and Renault offer a 6-speed unit under the names PowerShift and EDC (Efficient Double Clutch), while Fiat and Alfa Romeo call it a TCT (Twin Clutch Transmission). Even Lamborghini was forced to adopt this tech, a 7-speed twin being added to the Huracan supercar – LDF, which is short for Lamborghini Doppia Frizione.

Volkswagen, the company that first decided one clutch was not enough, is also moving the game forwards. It has recently revealed a brand new 10-speed unit it says will go into production cars soon. Details are limited, but the unit is engineered to take up to 550 Nm of torque, which is what you get from a V6 engine or a very highly tuned 2-liter diesel these days.

So, why is everybody going crazy and deciding two clutches are now necessary?

To answer that question, we need to look at the needs of people who don't want to work the clutch. For years, the market was split between conventional automatics with torque converters, CVTs and single-clutch autos. All had their advantages and disadvantages. The auto was smooth but slow to react and thirsty, the CVT was efficient but weird to use and the single-clutch automated manual was jerky and unresponsive.

The first people to ask themselves "but what if we took a manual gearbox and gave it two clutches" were Porsche. They developed it for their famous racing prototypes and eventually brought it into production as the gearbox we know today as the PDK.

To put it simply, all twin-clutch gearboxes work by separating the odd and even gears on individual shafts. So you have gears 1, 3, 5 and 7 on one clutch and 2, 4 and 6 on the other. The whole thing works a bit like one of those Russian helicopters with coaxial blades.

The advantage is that whichever gear you want to go to, up or down, it's already available on the other clutch. The mecatronic unit disengages one clutch and pushes in the other one in one movement with almost instantaneous shifts happening. When launched in 2003, the DSG gearbox was much faster than conventional automatics and because it worked just like a normal manual, it was significantly more fuel efficient than a conventional automatic with a torque converter.


As we've mentioned already, the first series production DSG gearbox came out in 2003. It went into the Golf R32. Audi had already launched the TT coupe based on the same platform and it decided a 3.2-liter V6 and a clever gearbox would be great for boosting sales. At that time, Audi used the DSG moniker, but subsequently changed it to S tronic. The gearbox was developed by BorgWarner and built by the VW Group's Kassel factory located in the heart of Germany.

The DQ250 can take up to around 350 Nm of torque, is mainly paired to 2-liter turbo engines and weighs 90 kg (200 lb) in front-wheel drive applications, so slightly more than a manual. If you own a Golf GTI, an Audi A3 with a 6-speed S tronic or a Skoda Octavia with a big engine, chances are it's one of those.


More widely known as the 7-speed DSG gearbox, the DQ200 is different to the original BorgWarner unit. Instead of a submerged multi-plate clutch pack, this uses two single-plate dry clutches. From the start, it was designed for lower torque applications and because it's also fitted to smaller cars, it needed to be lighter as well.

The DQ200 usually takes up to 250 Nm of torque from VW's 1.6-liter diesel or around 170 Nm from the 1.2 TSI. It weighs 70 kilograms (150 lbs) and as far as we know, it's never been used on anything other than front-wheel drive cars. Since its launch in 2008, the unit has found its way into two generations of VW Golf and one of the Polo, plus sister cars from SEAT (Ibiza and Leon), Skoda (Fabia II and III, Octavia II and III) and Audi (A1 and A3).


In January 2009, six years after the original DSG, Volkswagen group came out with the pinnacle of twin-clutch tech, the DQ500. At that time it was heralded as the world’s only seven-speed transverse-mounted gearbox for high torques that is in large-scale series production.

It was expected to go into every large VW model starting with the next generations of the Transporter and Multivan. Even then, engineers were thinking of something that could deal with a turbocharged 2.0L biturbo TDI. Yes, it did go into the Passat, the Tiguan 177 PS diesel and the T5. However, its star role is in the Audi TT-RS and the subsequent RS Q3, both of which use a 2.5-liter TFSI turbo.

The 10-speed DSG

Codenamed DQ511, the new DSG gearbox with 10 speeds is mechanically similar to the DQ500. Besides improving fuel consumption, the extra gears offer one major advantage. The gearbox feels more open, in that the difference between the highest and the lowest ratio is wide. Because they are closer in drive ratio, there's less jumpiness when shifting, which some owners have complained about in the past.

Just like the DQ500, the two multi-plate clutches are bathed in oil, though the lubricant reaches a lower level and has reduced viscosity, which improves efficiency. We don't yet know when it will enter production, but that should take place in 2016 or so, when the new VW Tiguan comes out.

Misconceptions, facts and trivia

We've all seen how test drivers demonstrate the precision and speed of DSG gearboxes – mountain road, hit of the pedal on the right of the steering wheel and a "the changes is almost instantaneous". Most normal cars with twin-clutch gearboxes aren't Golf GTIs though, so they don't have paddles behind the steering wheel. If you want to manually select the gear, the gearshifter gate has a special mode that lest you do that, just like on an automatic.

The outer clutch has a larger diameter and can thus deal with more strain from the engine. That's why this is always connected to the odd gears (1, 3, 5…).

The DQ200 is at the center of a major scandal and recall. Due to an engineering flaw, it seems that electrolysis can occur within the gearbox's control unit. This in turn results in juddering or even total loss of power. Volkswagen has issued a massive recall affecting 1.6 million cars globally.

Modern automatics, like ZF's excellent 8-speed, shift just as well as twin-clutch units. It's also not true that DSG gearboxes are always more efficient than manual ones, though some are.
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About the author: Mihnea Radu
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Mihnea's favorite cars have already been built, the so-called modern classics from the '80s and '90s. He also loves local car culture from all over the world, so don't be surprised to see him getting excited about weird Japanese imports, low-rider VWs out of Germany, replicas from Russia or LS swaps down in Florida.
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