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What is a petrol particulate filter and how does it work?

Diesel cars have been fitted with particulate filters for years, and now petrol cars are getting them as well in order to reduce pollution...

Petrol particulate filter
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Claire Evans
15 Aug 2019 14:00

A growing number of petrol cars are being fitted with petrol particulate filters – also called gasoline particulate filters – in order to meet the latest stringent emissions limits. According to Volkswagen, the particulate emissions of some of its petrol models can be reduced by up to 95% by fitting a filter to the exhaust system. 

Why are petrol particulate filters being introduced? 

petrol particulate filter

Petrol-engined cars have been subject to particulate emissions limits since the EU5 standard was introduced in 2009. The permissible limits were reduced ten-fold in September 2018 when EU6c legislation came into force. This brought the NOx limit down to 60mg/km for new petrol cars, below the 80mg/km limit for diesels. This means particulates are virtually eliminated from exhaust emissions, including nanoparticles, which are considered to be more harmful than larger particulates. 

How does a petrol particulate filter work? 

The system on Volkswagen Group cars, such as the Volkswagen Up GTI and models using the 1.4 TSI engine, newer 1.5 TSI and 2.0-litre petrol, works like a three-way catalytic converter, through which exhaust gases flow after exiting the engine and going towards the exhaust pipe. 

The unit is situated just behind the engine, close to the turbocharger. This helps it warm up quickly – useful because it needs to be hot to work effectively. 

Exhaust gases are forced through the filter, wherein the trapped unwanted hydrocarbons (HC), nitrous oxides (NOx) and carbon monoxide (CO) particulates are heated up and reduced to small amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrogen and water.

petrol particulate filter

After leaving the filter, the gases pass through a second, conventional three-way catalytic converter mounted beneath the floor. This ensures the tailpipe exhaust complies with the latest level of EU6c emissions standards even when the engine is working flat out. 

Which cars are fitted with petrol particulate filters? 

Volkswagen committed to introducing particulate filters to its petrol models in 2016, having started with the Tiguan and Up. Petrol-engined versions of the various Ford, Mercedes-Benz and Porsche models, including the Mustang, S-Class and Macan, also have particulate filters. 

petrol particulate filter

The technology has also been introduced on most new petrol models introduced since September 2018 in order to meet the EU6c requirements.  

Do petrol particulate filters need maintenance? 

According to manufacturers, cars with petrol particulate filters shouldn’t need to regularly be driven at higher speeds for short periods to stop them getting clogged up with soot, unlike with diesels.

Petrol particulate filters aren’t prone to getting blocked up like diesel particulate filters because petrol engines heat up quicker and run hotter than diesel engines, so more of the soot that’s collected in the filter is burnt off. Additionally, Porsche says that the electronic control units in its cars will detect when soot particles occasionally need to be burned off and  increase the exhaust gas temperature to do this.  

Should I buy a car with a petrol particulate filter? 

Petrol cars fitted with particulate filters are among the cleanest cars on sale, and there's no evidence so far that the filters will suffer the problems that have proved costly for a small proportion of diesel car owners. 


Best petrol cars

Have you decided a petrol car is right for you? Then these are the 10 best currently on sale:

10. Cupra Ateca 300

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Our reigning champion in the sports SUV market is the Cupra Ateca. This was Cupra's first product after being hived off from Seat as a standalone brand (think what AMG is to Mercedes or the M Division to BMW), but boy did it do well. Power comes from a turbocharged 2.0-litre petrol engine developing 296bhp – and that's enough to haul this family SUV from 0-60mph in just 4.7sec. So it's definitely fast, but what impresses us most is how easy the Ateca is to live with, with a decent boot and a comfortable interior.

Read our full Cupra Ateca review or see our latest Ateca deals


9. Citroën Berlingo Puretech 110 Feel M

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If you have seven people and their luggage to haul around but don't fancy an SUV, the Citroën Berlingo should be the next call on your shopping list. It's incredibly spacious, represents great value for money and is economical – especially if you go for the turbocharged 1.2-litre petrol engine we recommend. You might think such a small engine would struggle to haul a large MPV, but it's actually surprisingly sprightly.

Read our full Citroën Berlingo review or see our latest Berlingo deals


8. Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio

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While the regular Alfa Romeo Giulia offers a more style-lead alternative to the BMW 3 Series and Audi A4 executive saloons, the tuned-up Quadrifoglio version is a true performance car. With a roaring 2.9-litre V6 petrol engine under its bonnet, it's ferociously fast but also offers sweet handling and a pliant ride. No wonder it's our reigning Performance Car of the Year.

Read our full Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio review or see our latest Giulia Quadrifoglio deals


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