Six-Month Road Test Hyundai Veloster: Dual-Clutch Differences

April 30, 2012

The 2012 Hyundai Veloster, as we have it for our first Six-Month Road Test, includes a lot of standout technology for the money. Many of the Veloster's features, whether we're talking about mechanical underpinnings like the direct-injection engine, or its excellent connectivity and infotainment interface, are way ahead of other small cars with the same price tag.

But there's one feature in the Veloster that you won't find anywhere else in the Hyundai lineup, as of yet: its so-called EcoShift DCT transmission, which is an automated, dual-clutch manual gearbox.

While dual-clutch gearboxes are new to Hyundai—and this one was developed by the automaker itself, rather than by a supplier—they aren't new to the U.S. market. Known under a range of terms, such as DSG (VW), Twin Clutch SST (Mitsubishi), and PowerShift (Ford), these transmissions generally offer more of a performance driving feel than conventional automatics, while optimizing gas mileage. Simply put, you can slide them into 'Drive' and they'll behave much like a regular automatic transmission—only with better fuel efficiency.

Since we also had a DSG-equipped 2012 Volkswagen GLI in the garage for the week, we decided to draw a few basic comparisons between these two transmissions—and we found quite a few differences between them along the way.

But first, we should cover some basics. Each of these dual-clutch transmission designs include two smaller manual gearboxes, with two clutch packs that engage one unit at a time to the drive wheels, as well as a complex set of sensors and solenoids that help not only pull off shifts very quickly, but very smoothly. And that's all tied into smart powertrain controls that anticipate which gear you might need next and ready it.

We've found that dual-clutch gearboxes work exceptionally well when accelerating up through the gears, or in partial-throttle downshifts on hilly backroads. But at the same time, full-throttle passing doesn't always deliver the lowest possible gear right away (there's sometimes an intermediate gear on the way down).

2012 Hyundai Veloster

2012 Hyundai Veloster

The appeal of dual-clutch gearboxes—in addition to their potentially faster shifts—to automakers is that they're smaller (so you get more packaging space under the hood); they're also (potentially) cheaper to build than the complex six-, seven-, or eight-speed automatics in some vehicles.

When it comes to these two models, back to back, we found that EcoShift DCT and DSG feel very different. As Joel points out in the video above, VW's DSG shifts very rapidly from gear to gear, with the tachometer taking on an almost video-game quality as it almost instantly cuts to the next ratio. On the other hand, in standard upshifts, Hyundai's DCT gearbox seems to take a breath between gears, letting revs fall gradually before fully engaging that next gear. Likewise, while downshifts happen quick when commanded manually with the VW, there's a separate, sometimes-frustrating pause before a downshift happens from the Hyundai box.

In our time with the VW GLI, we also noticed that the DSG gearbox (or the powertrain controls in general) tended to read our right foot better—conserving revs when we were gradually accelerating, while keeping them up on hilly or curvy roads. We'll update you on how smoothness or responsiveness changes with the DCT, as it's self-adjusting system; in the meantime, we're already getting used to using the Veloster's manual controls when we're not just on city streets or freeways. But perhaps in a testament to how conservatively DCT is tuned, we haven't noticed any of the occasional graunches or mechanical sounds that, over many years and test cars, we've come to expect from VW's DSG.

Initially, we were told by company officials, the base Veloster will be a real-world proving ground for the DCT unit for the first model year or two; looking farther ahead, Hyundai has plans to expand its availability to mainstream small-car models.

One model you won't see EcoShift DCT in is the upcoming 2013 Hyundai Veloster Turbo; because of its higher torque output, that model is getting a six-speed automatic instead (although just as with the base Veloster, a manual gearbox is standard).

Stay tuned for more updates in our Six Month Road Test of the Veloster, and see our full review for more information.

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