BimmerFile Poll: Manual vs DCT

BMW Carbon Fiber

The ultimate question for the modern BMW enthusiast; manual or DCT? That ‘s the question we get asked from readers more than any other these days. With the dual clutch DCT not only faster than the manual but also more efficient, it ‘s hard to make a case for rowing your own gears without being a bit sentimental. But that ‘s exactly what we are here at BF. We appreciate the satisfaction that comes with blipping the throttle and matching revs and the feedback and control you get with a properly sorted manual gearbox. But we ‘re not going to rehash the debate right now. That ‘s for you to do in the comment section. Instead we ‘re just going to give you a platform to tell us what you prefer.

What Transmission Do You Prefer

View Results

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  • RJ

    I would be concerned about the long-term maintenance costs associated with the DCT.

  • lava

    I’ve never used a DCT. I drove a car with an automatic with manual mode and paddles, and the engine revs had nothing to do with the shift points. It was confusing as hell and very unsatisfying. I have this fear that a DCT will feel like that.

  • votom808

    I’m a die hard manual fan/owner but I do see some need for improvement.

    Instead of car companies trying to make automatics more like manuals I’d like to see some more improvements on the stick side.

    As someone who drives a lot in SF (hill starts,) the 2 second delay on the rollback is awesome. Little improvements like this make owning a stick even better.

    What I’d like to see is a system that once first gear is engaged, the car will not stall when coming to a complete stop while in first. A traffic mode of sorts.

    Keep all the fun and control of a stick while using tech to minimize the downsides.

  • chas58

    Yep, I would enjoy DCT on the track, but for public roads I enjoy the control of my own clutch (and being able to play with the exhaust note too!).

    Ever price out a clutch job on a DCT? (hint: bring more than 3K). Ever wonder why a BMW takes such a depreciation hit outside of warranty? These cars are getting too expensive and complex to maintain beyond 100,000 miles. 100K is about how long the BMW should last with a “lifetime” fill on major fluids.

    I’ll keep it simple, do my own preventative maintenance, and keep the car a long while, thanks.

  • jayhaitch

    If you’re concerned about maintenance costs, you probably shouldn’t by a BMW in the first place. Complexity became a necessary part of cars when computers took over. Try running your fuel injection system without one. It’s very complex, and engines have just gotten more reliable as a result. The same will be true of transmissions. As engines get smaller and boosted to meet CAFE requirements, the drop in RPM and attendant despooling of the turbocharger necessary for manual shifting will be seen as too inefficient to be worthwhile. A DCT just shifts–at the optimum point for the mode selected–power to the wheels remains constant. It IS the future.

  • Andre

    I wish they had a 7 speed manual…

  • iNomis

    Don’t know the ratios on DCT but VW/Audi tweeks their dual clutch box ratios and differentials to get better acceleration. I would guess BMW does the same and adds the gear to get the efficiency. Make one with the same gearing and tell me the results.

    Actually, never mind, just keep giving us a decent manual trans option. (And a traffic free home.)

  • jazzman

    I’ve had the DCT in my M3 (08 model) and have about 7500 miles on it; no track, just roadway stuff. I’ve found the tranny to be a pain, made somewhat better with software updates. It may be great for the track, but I think it needs work for street use.

    See M3post.com for many lengthy posts describing the issues with DCT. I love the car in every other respect, but when my lease is up, I’m entertaining another M3, just to get rid of the DCT.

  • goat

    I always first ask DCT / PDK / DSG advocates where they stand on tracking their car. Why? Because for a track regular, DCT / PDK / DSG really does make a lot of sense and can be very rewarding (not to mention more consistent!).

    But I do the majority of my joy driving on back roads, nipping in and out of traffic… you know, the real world. And for those situations, the advantages of an automated manual do not outweigh what has been lost, namely the mechanical connection between driver and machine that the third pedal and multi-gate shift lever provides.

    Now throw in: – feeling of accomplishment (and sensory reward) that comes from diving into a corner and heel-and-toe blipping the throttle for a downshift to 2nd; – known and proven durability of a manual gearbox versus the unknown and unproven long term durability of the new boxes; – driving in traffic is boring (to me at least) UNLESS i have a manual box to row through (my experience is exactly the opposite of the common argument that commuters facing frequent traffic will prefer an automatic or automated manual).

    I do see a time where the DCT / PDK / DSG boxes will be so ubiquitous that enthusiasts will have no choice but to drive one. And it’s not the worst fate for a driving enthusiast (that distinction goes to the torque converter automatic, regardless of how many forward gears it “sports”). But knowing that there is something mechanically simpler, cheaper, more reliable, and (for now at least) more rewarding to drive, makes it awkward to rationalize a DCT / PDK / DSG over a good manual gearbox (which BMW has always been very good at building).

  • My answer is for the manual. For me, every time, every application, it is preferred. But. That isn’t quite the same for my wife. While she can, and will drive stick, and is quite good at it, she receives no pleasure from doing so and would just as soon have an automatic. So. Considering her opinion, with the DCT available, would I choose it, particularly if it eases the argument for a Inka Orange 1M, and improves efficiency and track-days? Possibly. Particularly if I have an E30 325is or E28 535is in the garage next to it.

  • Howie_in_AZ

    I have a 2003 330i 5-speed and a 2003 M3 convertible with SMG. Maintenance-wise the manual gearbox is always going to win. Fun wise I think it’s a toss-up between the two — something I never thought I’d say. The SMG is pretty fun but takes some getting used to. Sometimes I just want a normal 6-speed in the M3, although the fun factor of tearing through three gears to get up to speed on the highway is pretty high with the SMG.

    I’m sure I’ll change my mind regarding the SMG when I have to spend $1200+ to replace the pump.

  • Jon

    The best solution is to offer a choice. To take one of these options away entirely will clearly alienate a lot of potential buyers. While I will go on record as being a fan of the manual transmission, I appreciate the usefulness of other options, be they automatic or DCT or whatever. Some folks just want something different, and that is why I choose having a choice…

  • Bob

    I have a 6 sp, Z4M coupe. It’s the only way to go in this car. However I have driven the DCT on the track and roads. It is light years ahead of the SMG. The newer M engines rev so fast they a better adaped to the quickness of DCT. Future engines will be small displacement turbo’s and the DCT will not only work better in this application, it gives me the option to go to a real automatic mode in stop and go traffic.

  • Mike Lingenfelter

    Interesting debate, though as someone else already pointed it, it’s been raging for a couple years on other forums. And unlike most commenting here so far, I voted with my dollars.

    Heretofore, my cars have all had manual transmissions: 1 Honda, 2 MINIs, 3 Audis, 4 VWs, and 14 BMWs. BMW’s manual transmissions, especially their latest, are particularly sweet and satisfying to use.

    I decided to replace my 335i and Z4M with a single “play” car, an E9_ M3, which is spared daily-driver duties. I live in the Midwest, where canyon carving is off the menu. The new car would see heavy track usage, though, which ultimately sealed the deal: DCT.

    On track DCT is a revelation, “no lift to shift”, no “money shifts”, and both hands on the wheel at all times. I find myself shifting twice as often to maximize acceleration, simply because I can, penalty-free.

    Back on the suburban streets, the tiger becomes a pussycat. I leave it in drive with rare exceptions and relax. I find myself driving in traffic less aggressively and more responsibly .. and definitely more economically.

    Do I worry about long-term maintenance/repair costs? No. I can confidently say I won’t keep the car past its extended warranty period (not with my track record to date). Would I go back to a manual transmission? No, for the current car’s purpose. Possibly, if I lived in the mountains and didn’t track or autocross the car often. Do I miss the “driver involvement”? No, I still get my kicks when and where it’s appropriate.

    I respect others’ opinions, which seem equally divided. But I urge people to respond based on firsthand experience with DCT — not based on SMG (totally different animal) or “what it must be like” speculation.

  • JonPD

    Easy choice for me. More layers of technology between the driver and the act of driving makes things feel more Japanese by the moment.

  • Chadwick

    They are both fun, but I prefer DCT. As with combustion engines, manual shifting is of a dying breed. Shifting is fun but I would rather have the computer do it with precision and occasionally shift. With a manual I ALWAYS have to shift with DCT you have the option and I like options. I can’t wait to try the 7 speed DCT on my 335is. 7 weeks and counting.

  • chas58

    The automotive enthusiast world does seem to be drifting into two camps:

    1) Fewer computer controls between me and the car (Transmission, traction control, AWD, adaptive cruise control, etc) the better

    2) A computer can do it better than me, and I can drive faster/safer/easier with computer controlled transmission, DSC, AWD, torque vectoring differentials, adaptive cruise, auto park feature, etc.

  • kit

    Here’s my take on DCT vs Manual: given a perfect gearbox, I’d prefer a manual. BMW’s manuals are not perfect, and I’ve gone flappy paddle in most of my more recent purchases.)

    I’ve owned a lot of recent BMWs. I have also owned a few s2000s. (05 M3 – manual, 06 M roadster – manual, 08 335i – manual, 09 335i – steptronic, 09 Z4 Sdrive35i – DCT and 06 M5 – SMG)

    Out of all of them, I hated the M roadster’s tranny the most, it always ground second gear at certain RPMs and shift speeds. All BMWs now come with clutch delay valves, which I also hate… and their shifters are generally rubbery and vague as well.

    The Z4’s DCT is an excellent tranny, except that it feels very robotic to me, definite a layer of insulation from the car. It felt almost identical to the steptronic in the 335i, which makes me kind of wonder why it exists… it’s more expensive, more complex and hardly shifts faster. (and to be fair, it does shift faster and more responsively, but the margin is slight.) It is a great tranny, for someone else, and I was sad that I paid extra for DCT.

    The 06 M5’s SMG-III is an interesting tranny, I both love and hate it. I love that it is less insulative and makes me feel like part of the car… since you have to feather the gas just like you do in a traditional manual, you feel much more part of the interaction. You can feel the clutch activate when you tip into the gas. I don’t miss a manual as much with SMG as I did with the Z4’s DCT. That said, SMG-III despite being the best of the SMG trannies (waaaay better than SMG-II in the E46 M3) it still makes mistakes sometimes. At least once a day, it clunks a shift or makes the car lurch. That’s the love/hate part of it, I love that it retains much of the interactivity of a traditional manual with the convenience of being able to stick it into D when I’m feeling lazy… but I hate that it screws stuff up.

    My next car is probably going to be a stick, and I’m just going to have to read up on how to rip out the clutch delay valve at the very beginning of ownership.

  • Micah

    I’m with goat — long live the 3-pedal manual. I will spec every single one of my future cars with a manual, even passing by a possible car choice if it is DSG/DCT/PDK/the-next-lame-acronym only. Same if I the car does not have the ability to fully disable traction/stability control as with many of VWAGs recent products. It will be sad day for driving enthusiasts when the true manual dies in America.

  • Robert

    Manual with a diesel, when will it happen.

  • CiaoBoy

    I have 4 cars with manual transmissions (94 NSX, 95 M3, 01 Miata, 06 MINI Cooper S JCW) and my 5th car is a leased 08 M3 coupe with the DCT. While the DCT is not perfect, it’s much better than the SMG and it’s pretty darn good. It works quite well about 90% of the time. I do experience the delay at slow speeds when letting off the gas and then getting back on the gas. That is frustrating. The more bothersome characteristic is the extreme amount of engine braking whenever I let off the gas pedal. Those two annoyances are making me debate whether to buy this car when it comes off of lease, or to buy a different 08 M3 with the 6-speed manual. One pet peeve I have with the manual is that the clutch pedal has lost a bit of feel compared to older cars. I found the same loss in feel in the R56 Coopers.

  • Micah

    @CiaoBoy – Agreed regarding feel of many clutch pedals on newer cars, which are often too light and overboosted. Do car manufacturers, including BMW, think that Americans are now so soft and unfit that we can’t push in a proper clutch pedal? It you want real clutch/gearbox feel, go drive and 911 GT3.

  • Chadwick

    Wow I am very surprised at the percentages! Its far closer than I thought it would be! Yeah, go DCT! Don’t get me wrong, the classic cars which only came in manual are perfect the way they are like the E30 M3. I am one who believes that a car is meant to work for us, not us work for it. Its nice to have shifting without the third pedal and all the ailments which come with it. For you the kink that come with a manual are worth it, for me its not. The DCT fills that void of a purely automatic car without the need to go fully manual, and thats kinda nice. In this day and age, you will never convince me otherwise that manual shifting is a dying breed, and it is, I have talked to non bias enthusiasts, auto journalists, engineers, designers, they don’t like admitting it….but they do.

  • chas58

    sure, manual shifting is a dying breed. But, like LPs, analog, and the premature presumed demise of RWD, there will always be a passionate core of enthusiasts who will go out of their way to find it, even it someday that means buying vintage cars.

  • JP

    Can anyone confirm (with some documentation) that the BMW DCT is more fuel efficient than the manual? fueleconomy.gov is listing the 2011 bmw 135i manual as being more efficient than the 2011 bmw 135i dct.

  • CiaoBoy

    The M3 convertible with the DCT gets EPA 14/20 and with the manual gets 13/19.