Automatic Transmission Types Explained: CVT, DSG, Tiptronic, Dual-Clutch, Automated-Manual Transmission

A transmission (or gearbox) is a bridge between the engine and the drive wheels of a vehicle. It transforms torque and horsepower to various speed limits. To simply put, it sends power from the first part to the second part to help the car to move forward and backward. The automatic version of the gearbox can change gears with the movement of the vehicles, the driver does not need to do anything except for selecting the modes. Modern vehicles feature a few versions of automatic transmission types. Let’s have a look:

Automatic Transmission Types Explained

A Canadian inventor named Alfred Horner Munro first patented the concept of the auto gearbox and he utilized compressed air for the change of gears. American inventor Oscar H. Banker developed the concept and invented the first practical auto transmission. The automobile giant General Motors introduced the first modern and mass-produced self-shifting gear called Hydramatic in 1940.

The automatic transmission types is available in several versions depending on the make and model of a vehicle.

Traditional Automatic Transmission

Mostly known as torque converter automatic, this is the standard type of automatic transmission to be found in most of the cars these days. Unlike a manual gearbox, it does not use a clutch to change gears. Instead, a hydraulic fluid coupling or a torque converter does this job. It connects to the Electronic Control Unit of the engine and allows for precise control of the vehicle.

automatic transmission
Kia Sportage uses the conventional automatic gearbox. (photo source: Kia)

Automatic cars perform smoothly, but the shifting of the gears is not quick all the time, earning them the name ‘slushbox’. The impression has been changing though, thanks to some brilliant transmission models such as the ZF 8-speed, which you will find in many performance cars ranging from Jaguars to BMWs.

>> Some of the popular models are Porsche Panamera, BMW X1, Kia Sportage, and more.

Automated-Manual Transmission

Also known as semi-automatic transmission (SAT) and several other names, this automatic transmission type utilizes a regular clutch and gear setup but automates the action by the use of sensors, actuators, processors, and pneumatics.

Automatic transmission type
Ford Kuga runs on a semi-automated transmission. (photo source: Ford)

The cars featuring this transmission provide better performance on highways. They are not recommended for city driving because the engines feel jerky under hard acceleration.

>> Some of the popular models are Ford Kuga, Volvo V40, Audi A5, and more.

Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT)

These gearboxes use either belts of pulleys, instead of steel gears found in traditional auto transmission, for changing the gears. It allows seamless gear shifting with numerous range of ratios and facilitates the engine to spin at the maximum RPM (speed).

Two more types of CVT are there. The Hydrostatic CVT uses hydrostatic motors and variable-displacement pumps for transferring power to the engine. On the other hand, the Toroidal CVTs use discs and power rollers for this purpose.

type of automatic transmission
Chevrolet Spark is a popular example of CVT. (photo source: Chevrolet)

The transmission allows the engine to operate at the maximum efficiency with seamless acceleration. It is good for fuel economy, and the repair and maintenance are not expensive. However, the engine creates much noise under acceleration and load. Plenty of models use this gearbox, and some of the crowd favorites are Chevrolet Spark, Ford C-Max, Nissan Sentra, and more.


Dual-Clutch Transmission (DCT)

It is a hybrid of automatic and manual transmission. There is no torque converter in DCT. You will use two separate shafts for gear changing, one for odd-numbered and another for even-numbered gears. Both the shafts have their own clutch.

automatic gearbox
Chrysler Dodge Dart uses Dual-Clutch Transmission. (photo source: Chrysler)

You can shift to a higher or lower gear in a fraction of second and the transformation from automatic to manual is also seamless. However, the DCT gearboxes can’t escape the complaints of noisy clutches, scratching sound, and rough shifts.

>> Examples of such cars are Ford Fiesta, Chrysler Dodge Dart, and more.

DSG (Direct Shift Gearbox)

It is almost similar to the DCT but without its annoying problems. It uses two clutches instead of a torque converter, and its mechanism works by simple disengaging of one clutch and engaging the other second one for changing the gears. This transmission offers faster gear shifting and smoother pulling away than the traditional models.

Modern DSG units provide better fuel efficiency than even the manual gearboxes. The DCT is a dry transmission that does not need the driver to change the gearbox fluid ever. It leaves the clutches dry and wears out their frictional quality eventually. The results are abrupt shifts, slow responses to gear shifting, and jerky transmission. On the other hand, DGS is a wet transmission that keeps the clutches lubricated. The result is decade-long service with lighting gear-changing performance. However, you have to change the fluid on a regular basis (every 40k miles), which could be costly.

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BMW M3 is one of the best cars for driving with the DSG. (photo source: Hexagon Classics)

Many automobile manufacturers such as Skoda, VW, Porsche, and Audi use this model in their cars but under different names. For example, Porsche calls it PDK gearboxes while the name changes to DSG S-Tronic units for Audi models.

Tiptronic Transmission

It is one of automatic transmission types that functions just like a manual gearbox. However, it’s different from manual operation in the sense that it uses a torque converter in the place of a clutch pedal, does have the option for auto shifting, and does not let the driver have full control over the gears.

What unique about this unit is it has the option to override the automatic mode. It means that you can drive your car as an automatic along with being able to switch into the manual mode when required such as getting up a hill or going downward in a steep road.

automatic transmission type
Tiptronic Transmission was first seen in Porsche 911. (photo source: Porsche)

The cars using this unit has an inbuilt safety feature so that any driver error does not result in the damage of the gearbox. A number of manufacturers use this type of automatic transmission but it was first seen in Porsche 911 (in 1990) and then adopted by BMW and Chrysler.


Which automatic transmission types should you choose? Well, it depends on the make, model, and the type of performance you are looking for. Besides, the budget is an issue too. Some transmissions are more expensive than the others. Hopefully, this guide will help you fix your choice.

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