The UK's top 10 best-selling cars
Here we analyse the trends in new car buying patterns and give you a run down of the most popular cars in the UK
As the UK slowly returns to normal following the Coronavirus pandemic, new car registrations are beginning to pick up again, with a total of 156,737 new cars registered in May.
According to the latest figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), this figure represents an almost eightfold increase on the same month last year, which shows motorists are heading back into dealerships since they’ve reopened.
The total number of new cars registered in May is still down around 15% on May 2019, however. But with car shopping now back in full swing and manufacturers continuing to offer plenty of deals on both new and used cars, we expect the upward trend to continue into the summer months. The SMMT predicts around 1.86 million new registrations by the end of the year, with 723,845 recorded so far.
Fleet registrations grew more than twice as fast as private ones in May, with 79,435 registrations accounting for 51% of all new vehicles hitting the road. This demonstrates improving business confidence in comparison to May 2020, at the height of the first lockdown. Private sales, meanwhile, secured a 47% market share with 73,865 vehicles registered.
Sales of plug-in vehicles continue to rise, now accounting for 14% of all vehicles sold in 2021, in comparison to 7% in May 2020. The most rapid growth was seen in plug-in hybrid (PHEV) vehicles. Petrol cars account for 60% of 2021 registrations, while diesel cars hold a 18% share year to date, compared to 65% and 22% last year respectively. Battery electric vehicle (BEV) market share, meanwhile, declined from 12% in 2020 to 8% in May 2021.
Pure petrol cars dropped below 50% of total sales last month (48%) and, while pure diesel sales used to be on a par with petrol, they continue to decline, holding only a 10% market share in May 2021. While the gradual fade of diesel-powered cars is mostly due to the negative publicity surrounding them coupled with increasing tax costs, an increase in remote working will likely contribute to this downward trend going forward, combined with fewer cars being offered with diesel engines.
Despite increasing demand for SUVs and crossovers like the Ford Puma, Peugeot 3008 and Skoda Karoq, superminis remained Britain’s most popular choice of car in May, securing a 31% share, and the top 10 is still dominated by conventional hatchbacks such as the Ford Fiesta, Volkswagen Golf and Vauxhall Corsa.
While it’s evident that the car market is recovering, registrations for 2021 sit at 296,448 fewer units ( down 29%) than the average recorded across January to May during the last decade. This really puts into perspective the scale of the recovery still needed to overcome the impacts of the pandemic.
If you’re interested in an electric or hybrid car, check out our guides to the best hybrid cars, the best electric cars and the cheapest electric cars. Here's a full breakdown of the best-selling cars for 2021 year-to-date:
BMW 3 Series
Read on for more about Britain’s best-selling cars:
UK sales in May 2021: 4,181
The Volkswagen Golf is a familiar part of the British automotive landscape. Keeping it this high in the rankings is no mean feat, with almost constant updates to keep it at the cutting edge. That means it has economical and punchy petrol and diesel engines, and a GTE plug-in hybrid is now available too.
Traditionally famed for its plush interior, with enough space for four tall adults, the Golf lives up to its reputation as all the car most of us will ever need. These sales figures will be a mix of the old and new models, although the latest generation is arguably not as much of an upgrade as we were initially expecting.
UK sales in May 2021: 3,643
The Vauxhall Corsa is an ever-popular choice, whether for driving instructors, first-time buyers or experienced drivers. It’s a user-friendly car that offers good value for money, and is a fun but practical option for many. Another appealing aspect of buying a Corsa is the range of options offered by Vauxhall, making it an easy car to personalise.
There are many trim levels, engine choices and optional extras, as is often the case with Vauxhall models. The new model even brings an electric Corsa-e option for the first time.
UK sales in May 2021: 3,518
The Volkswagen Polo is the other default supermini, and this latest generation is more impressive and more sophisticated than ever before. Whether you’re after a car with the cheapest possible insurance or hot hatch thrills, the Polo delivers in spades.
It’s very well equipped, and you can spec features that previously would’ve been reserved for much more expensive cars. VW’s great DSG automatic gearbox is available on most engines, which really matches the car’s mature feel and refinement. Add in plenty of space for passengers and a generous boot, and it’s easy to see why you’d choose the Polo over its rivals – or over bigger hatchbacks like the Golf or Renault Megane.
UK sales in May 2021: 3,313
The Mercedes A-Class has enjoyed far greater popularity since it was re-imagined as a rival to the BMW 1 Series and Audi A3, and the latest version puts the smallest Mercedes right on the cutting edge. The style is sharper and sportier than before, with a real high-quality feel inside.
The brand's latest MBUX entertainment system is impressive, and is displayed on a screen that merges seamlessly with the instrument panel in the style of the bigger, more expensive Mercedes E-Class. Smaller, more efficient petrol and diesel engines boost economy, with over 60mpg claimed for the A180d.
UK sales in May 2021: 3,158
Whether it’s bringing in more customers or pinching sales from its Focus and Fiesta siblings, it seems that many buyers are taken with the reincarnated Puma SUV. It’s great to drive, well-equipped and very practical – in fact, with a washable ‘MegaBox’ underneath the main boot compartment, it has an even bigger boot than Ford’s hatchbacks.
We suspect many of the mild-hybrid petrol engines sold recently have been Fords - most versions of the 1.0-litre petrol engine now come with a little bit of electrical help (although the difference might not be as noticeable as the ‘hybrid’ badge suggests).
UK sales in May 2021: 2,956
It seems the Kia Sportage is one of the favourite SUVs of UK buyers because it has been in our top 10 on several occasions - although never as high as second place. The car’s styling and high-spec interior likely play a part in its popularity, with even the very cheapest Sportage getting luxuries like sat nav and a reversing camera.
Adding mild-hybrid assistance to the diesel engine means it’ll achieve nearly 50mpg, while the Sportage has tidy handling too. Like all Kia models, the Sportage features a whopping seven-year/100,000-mile warranty, which is only surpassed by one brand - fellow Korean brand SsangYong. Word of mouth might be partly behind the Kia’s success, as it finished a very respectable 13th place in our 2020 Driver Power owner survey.
UK sales in May 2021: 2,794
The Ford Fiesta has been Britain’s favourite car for 40 years and it’s now into its eighth generation – and better than ever. It’s more spacious than before and features a lovely interior that’s up there with the best in its class. It retains its fun-to-drive demeanour and the 1.0-litre engine that powers the majority of models is fantastic.
There’s a wide range of trims, including the new Vignale model of the Fiesta, an ST hot hatchback that provides even better handling and more excitement, plus a rugged, faux-SUV in the form of the Active version. The Fiesta boasts plenty of equipment, too, such as phone connectivity, lane-departure warning and the speed-limiting MyKey.
UK sales in May 2021: 2,578
The Toyota Yaris accounts for nearly a quarter of all hybrid sales, as the standard car is only available with electrification. There’s also the four-wheel-drive GR Yaris, which will have made up a small proportion of sales too.
Toyota says the hybrid model will manage 68mpg, which is more than you can expect from some diesel-engined small cars. As a result, it’ll be very cheap to run, which will offset the near-£20,000 starting price. It also looks sharp and has a well-equipped interior with the all-important Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
UK sales in May 2021: 2,561
The MINI seems to get better and better, and its practicality drawbacks are vastly outweighed by its plus points. It’s fantastic to drive and full of character, and the interior feels high-quality too. The MINI can be surprisingly affordable but you can also go mad on personalisation options to truly make it your own if you wish.
With a range spanning hardcore John Cooper Works hot hatches, a nippy electric version and a five-door petrol that’s a bit more spacious, it’s hardly surprising that the MINI sells so well. It’s just as good with an automatic gearbox, which can’t be said for all of its competitors.
UK sales in May 2021: 2,489
Because of how PCP deals work, you might find there’s less of a price difference than you were expecting between ‘normal’ family hatchbacks and more upmarket ones like the Audi A3. The A3 nameplate has been around for over 20 years, and this latest version introduces perhaps the most thorough styling overhaul in the model’s history. Based on the Volkswagen Golf, it also benefits from an array of the latest technology and big screens inside.
The A3 is a stable and refined car to drive, and both its petrol and diesel engines are very economical. There’s also a plug-in hybrid version which will strike a chord with company-car drivers, or a rapid S3 version with the security of four-wheel drive.