This is going to be long and exhaustive, you may get bored. Don't forget to grab some food and coffee if you're a caffeine enthusiast. But on a serious note, this is going to appeal to all the true enthusiasts. Time to get started.
With time, our market has slowly but steadily started accepting the automatic transmission cars. It was Maruti Suzuki which hit the sweet spot with their AMT. It was probably the first AMT equipped car (correct me if I'm wrong), and the gearbox was plonked in the Celerio. For me, Celerio was like a guinea pig which was used to test how much people are willing to accept these mass market automatic cars. Celerio, as a whole was very well received and it's AMT variants outsold it's manual counterparts. It was then that Maruti decided to plonk the AMT in it's other offerings. Following AMT's success, more and more manufacturers started opting for AMT over the traditional torque converter gearboxes. Currently, AMT is available on A segment hatchbacks such as Renault Kwid, Nissan Redi-Go and Maruti Suzuki Alto K-10. Now, AMT is quite a dated technology, and doesn't really appeal to the enthusiasts. The shifts are very jerky, and the gearbox generally gets confused when you accelerate hard. But hey, AMT is selling because it offers convenience of an automatic, even though it's not a proper automatic (I won't get into technicalities for now).
Now, we have proper torque converter automatic gearboxes, which are also called the 'Real Automatics'. Apart from these, we have CVT gearboxes, which offer seamless shifts and are also known for good fuel efficiency. I won't talk about their negatives, the reason for you will find out very soon, as you read on!
Now, as title of my post suggests, I shall talk about DSG now! For starters, DSG is a dual clutch gearbox. Now, to make a layman understand what a dual clutch automatic transmission is, I will take a very simple example to explain.
As the name suggests, Dual-Clutch Automatics have two clutch plates, which work in tandem. Suppose you are driving on an expressway, you see a big trailer trying to get into your lane, what will you do? Maybe, you will let that trailer get into your lane and you will keep driving like a normal person. Now, the other situation might be that you would want to overtake that trailer before he gets into your lane. You will accelerate hard, try to race against the time so that you can be ahead of the trailer. Alas, only if the gearbox was quick with shifts. In manual transmission cars, you can downshift and can get going, in traditional torque converters, you can take manual control of the gearbox to get going. But here's the catch! No matter how good a driver you are, there will be a bit of lag and the gearbox may even take it's own sweet time to give you a go.
Then there's a dual clutch automatic, where there are two clutch plates. When a gear is engaged, the second plate is already ready to shift gears. This additional clutch gives you the power to accelerate hard and maybe overtake the trailer before it gets into your lane.
Again, I am not using industry specific terms to make understanding easier to which a layman can also relate.
The primary advantage of dual clutch automatics is, the gearshifts are lightning quick, even quicker than shifts in manual transmission cars. Now, to be fair, the working of these dual clutch automatics looks and seems easy when you read it. The working is far more complex and these gearboxes also comprise of a lot of complex mechanicals as well.
Now, coming to the main topic, the DSG. The Direct-Shift Gearbox, or DSG as it is commonly known is one of the most popular dual clutch automatics out there. The idea of DSG was conceived in 2003, by the Volkswagen group. Infact, it was the first dual clutch transmission to be ever used in a series production cars. Inititally, the DSG was used in mass market cars like Volkswagen Polo and SEAT Ibiza. It became so popular that people termed it as the 'Best of all Automatics'. But that was not to be! DSG was marred by a lot of issues, most of them pertaining to mechatronic failures and multi-clutch assembly. Infact, the DQ200 Dry-Clutch DSG was the most notorious one, so much so that it earned the tag of 'Most Probelematic DSG'. Now, one thing that may surprise all of you is that, problems pertaining to these gearboxes were not unknown to VW! They knew all about these problems. And it's not like they tried to distance themselves from the customers plagued by these issues, VW went one step ahead and offered free replacement for all the cars that were marred by these gearbox related issues. Now, unlike Ford, whose Dual-Clutch Transmissions also went through a lot of complexities and problems, VW hasn't tried to distance itself away from DSG. Infact, VW group has made great strides in improving the quality of gearboxes and has also invested a lot of money in improving the overall gearbox. And that investment paid off in 2008, when they came up with wet clutch DSG! Now, I will leave it here for now. Reason? Let's talk about Indian Cars which have DSG!
VW made a grand arrival when they launched Polo and Vento in India. The cars were very well received. But it was Skoda, which brought the DSG here. Skoda, which was quite familiar with Indian market brought Fabia and Laura with DSG. For those who don't know, Skoda is owned by VW Group (and so are Audi, SEAT, Ducati, Bugatti etc). Now again, these DSG cars were very well received. But then people who purchased it started repenting about it, because these cars started showing the same problems that were faced by people of other countries. These cars came with that same notorious, DQ200 dry clutch gearbox. With time, the issues faced by owners spread like wildfire and the sales of these cars dwindled and fell to an all time low. Skoda eventually had to phase out Fabia and Laura. Though they did bring in Laura's replacement (New Octavia). One thing that I want to point out is, I am not here to say that these cars were/are bad, nor I intend to say DSG is a failed gearbox. I, with utmost generosity want to admit that VW group makes amazing cars, and DSG is one of the most amazing gearboxes to have ever been designed. Just like the FIAT's 1.3 DDiS is considered a technological marvel, DSG is another technological wonder.
Coming to the point where I mentioned about wet clutch DSG's, they are lot more reliable and there have been far lesser complaints when compared to the DQ200 dry clutch gearbox. But make no mistake, they are problematic and owners have faced a lot of ordeals with these wet clutch gearboxes as well. How much is the ordeal faced by DSG owners? Well, cars in USA, Australia, China, Sweden, Japan and Malaysia have been plagued by several issues. Talking about November 2013, around 1.6 Million Vehicles were recalled by VW. The gearbox in contention here? Majority of these cars were equipped with the notorious DQ200 dry clutch DSG.
Now comes the primary question with respect to potential buyers in India, How reliable is DSG? Frankly, all the online forums are filled with a lot of negative comments regarding the (in)famous Skoda after-sales and the frequent breakdowns of these cars. I will tell about my case. Around 2 years back, when I was in the market for a premium hatchback, Polo was on the top of my list. My father, when saw the list straightaway told me to strike off Polo from the list. Oh trust me, he did not have an iota of problem with the presence of Fiat Punto in the list, but he had a major problem with the Polo! Reason? One of our neighbour had a Polo and whenever he visits us complains about how careless the service center guys are and how shabby and uninformed their service advisors are. He once even bashed the technicians of a particular service station for some reason on a public forum. Same happened when my father wanted to buy a C-Segment Sedan for himself, Vento and Rapid for not even considered (thanks to the emission scandal as well).
Underlying problem is the DQ200 gearbox, which totally killed the Laura brand in India. Now, let's dive a bit deeper into the problem, which are the cars that were affected the most? All the TSi with DSG, right from Polo TSi to Superb 1.8 TSi. Laura was obviously one car that received the major chunk of backlash. Oh and did I mention how fantastic TSi engines with DSG are? It pains me to the core when I see these cars not performing well, just because of some issues!
Skoda did address that problem and for it's future launches, they made sure the newer cars come with new wet clutch DSG's. The last time I drove the Octavia vRS, I went berserk, because of that amazingly tuned gearbox. It's so well tuned that it makes driving a breeze. Obviously we cannot forget cars like VW Tiguan, VW Passat, Skoda Superb and Skoda Kodiaq (all underpinned by the all new MQB Platform) which come with new wet-clutch gearboxes. Now, all of these cars, with their understated elegance are perfect in their own particular ways, but still they are slow selling products in their respective segments. The newer gen wet clutch DSG gearboxes are codenamed DQ250 (6 speed; doing duty in VW Passat, Octavia Diesel, Octavia vRS, Superb), DQ500 (7 speed; doing duty in VW Tiguan and Skoda Kodiaq). What about DQ200? Yes, that notorious gearbox, it does duty in all the mass market cars of VW Group, in VW Polo, Ameo, Vento, Skoda Rapid, Octavia (Petrol) and Superb (Petrol).
Now, coming to my final question, would you buy a DSG equipped car over it's competitors?
Dents, scratches, minor (and major) accidents, maybe a few breakdowns are all part and parcel of car ownership, but would you invest your hard-earned money in a car which is known for gearbox specific problems and breakdowns?
Inputs from owners of DSG equipped cars would be of tremendous help to forum members and potential buyers as well.
Other inputs regarding the cars, and the points which I probably did not mention would be highly appreciated.