Prior to my arrival at AUTOMOBILE magazine last month, I spent more than eight years on staff at sister publication Motor Trend, who we share our Southern California office with. The last few months of that time, I spent most of my commuting hours behind the wheel of a 2015 Volkswagen Golf GTI. That Tornado Red car had the highest-spec Autobahn package (leather sport seats, nav, sunroof, etc.), along with the DSG transmission.
When we were ordering the car, DSG made a lot of sense. Commuting anywhere around our L.A. headquarters is a nightmare, and a clutch leg is easily worn out over a 30-mile round trip of stop-and-go monotony. Now that I’ve put a fair few miles on AUTOMOBILE’s manual-equipped, S-trim 2015 Volkswagen Golf GTI, it’s clear that the manual version offers several advantages over its twin-clutch sibling.
The first (and most important) is that it’s simply more fun to drive. I love the convenience of modern dual-clutch transmissions. Not only do they slip into automatic mode for the dreary rush-hour drive, but they also shift faster and in many cases smoother (more on that later) than any human ever could. I also like that when I’m carving up a bit of two-lane road or an unfamiliar racetrack, the GTI’s DSG allows me to keep a stronger focus on learning lines and improving my car control. All that said, for me a good manual gearbox will always offer an extra element of involvement. And the 2015 Volkswagen Golf GTI has a good manual gearbox. The clutch and shift lever have fairly light action, which keeps things low-key in traffic, but the gear change is very precise and the gas and brake pedals are perfectly spaced for rev matching. The car is easy to drive smoothly in traffic but difficult to miss a shift in on my favorite bit of two-lane.
The DSG isn’t far from perfect on the more entertaining roads. Shifts up and down are quick and met with a brief Braaaapp! each time, which gives a bit of aural excitement, but it’s the around-town stuff that sometimes leaves me wishing for a little more polish. Very occasionally, the DSG acts confused and sluggish and it can be a little reluctant to move off the line, giving a moment’s hesitation. Most of the time, the DSG is just fine, but the quirks take a little getting used to.
Of course, the DSG is more expensive too. When the base price of a 2015 Volkswagen Golf GTI is $25,605, the additional $1,100 to delete the clutch pedal is nothing to sneeze at. And while manual and DSG versions have the same combined fuel economy at 28 mpg, the manual version gets a single mpg greater on the highway (34 mpg) than the DSG car does.
Should you choose a manual car over a DSG? That’s a question you can only answer for yourself after driving both. Personally, the added fun factor and slightly better around-town experience are enough to sway me to the manual’s side. If you prefer convenience and aren’t too smooth with the third pedal, the DSG is tough to beat.
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