Most popular cars in the UK – best-selling models

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Most popular cars
A disappointing year
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The top 10
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A ‘desperately disappointing year’ for car sales

There’s no way to sugarcoat the fact the motor industry has taken a huge hit these past two years.

The SMMT report shows car sales grew just 1% in 2021 compared with 2020’s pandemic-plundered figures. (2020 saw a near 30% slump in car sales compared with 2019 😰).

The fact 2021 sales barely recovered from the nightmare that was 2020 is mainly down to a global semiconductor shortage. (Fun fact: semiconductors form part of the electronic equipment that’s essential for modern cars.)

This shortage meant car brands were hit with serious production issues. So even though there was a huge demand for new cars, there often simply weren’t enough cars to meet that demand.

All this has led to the worst year for new car sales on record since 1992 😞.

SMMT Chief Executive Mike Hawes said: “It’s been another desperately disappointing year for the car industry as Covid continues to cast a pall over any recovery. Manufacturers continue to battle myriad challenges, with tougher trading arrangements, accelerating technology shifts and, above all, the global semiconductor shortage which is decimating supply.”

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But electric vehicle sales surge

Thankfully the report wasn’t all doom and gloom.

2021 was the most successful year in history for electric vehicle (EV) uptake 🙌.

In fact, there were more battery electric cars registered in 2021 alone than in 2016-2020 combined. Nice.

Interested in learning more? Check out our guide on the best cheap electric cars in the UK.

The sale of electric vehicles has soared
The sale of electric vehicles has soared

Top 10 best-selling cars of 2021

1. Vauxhall Corsa – 40,914 sales

This really is historic stuff: the Vauxhall Corsa was the most-sold new car in 2021, knocking the Ford Fiesta off its top spot for the first time in 12 years.

This is actually the first time in 50 years that a Ford car hasn’t even topped the best-seller charts. Yikes.

Hats off to Vauxhall, anyway. Its new generation of Corsa models (including the all-electric Corsa-e) have clearly ticked plenty of the right boxes for consumers.

The latest model was launched in 2020, and is the first under Vauxhall’s new Stellantis (nee PSA Group) ownership. It shares most of the same underpinnings as the Peugeot 208, but is definitely the more popular option in the UK.

(Shameless plug: check out our guide on insuring a Vauxhall Corsa.)

2. Tesla Model 3 - 34,783 In 2020, the Tesla Model 3 became the first fully electric car to make it to the top 15 best-selling passenger cars in the UK.

It was surprising to see it get all the way up to second position by December 2021, as the model wasn’t even on the top 10 list in November.

This sudden turnaround happened because Tesla tends to ship in bulk to the UK at the end of each quarter. So there was a massive influx of new models at the end of the year.

Still, it’s impressive to see the Tesla Model 3 soar to the (almost) top of the leaderboard with days to spare.

3. Mini Hatchback - 31,792 BMW’s Mini Hatchback is experiencing a bit of a revival according to the best-sellers list. At third most-bought new car in 2021, it’s enjoying the best success it’s had in years.

Sure, the Mini is the oldest model on the top ten list, but this didn’t stop it having a really strong end of year.

By November it was at the top of the best-sellers leaderboard, falling to second place in November and going back up to first in December.

The fact it came out third overall is a great win for British car manufacturing. And all this despite the fact BMW had to pause production at its Oxford plant in April 2021 because of the semiconductor shortage.

It’s also pretty impressive the Mini Electric was the seventh most bought fully electric car in 2021. Not bad at all.

4. Mercedes A-Class - 30,710 Say hello to the UK’s new favourite family hatchback! 👋

In 2021, the Mercedes A-Class officially outsold the VW Golf, Ford Focus, Vauxhall Astra and all other other mainstream hatchbacks including the BMW 1 Series.

It might be the case that the semiconductor shortage worked in Mercedes’ favour here. Ford and VW were seriously hit by the crisis, making it much easier for competitors to pip them to the popularity post.

5. Volkswagen Polo - 30,634 VW’s Polo became the third best-selling supermini in the UK in 2021. (Volkswagen was actually the most popular overall car brand for the first time on record too.)

A new, facelifted Polo came onto the market in September 2021. But it’s likely the model didn’t make it higher up on the list because dealerships just couldn’t get enough of them to sell in time.

It’s also interesting that this is the first time the Polo has beat the bigger VW Golf on the top-ten chart. All hail the mighty mini.

Here’s our guide on insuring a VW Polo.

6. Volkswagen Golf - 30,240 The Volkswagen Golf suffered an eye-watering 30% drop in sales in 2021 compared to 2020.

Things went rapidly wrong towards the end of the year, when the semiconductor shortage saw production stutter to a near-stop.

The VW Golf doesn’t have an electric version either. This is a shame because VW’s ID.3 model (basically the EV equivalent of the Golf) did really well last year, selling 11,000 models.

Here’s how you can insure a VW Golf.

The VW Golf has fallen in popularity but is still 6th on the list/>

<figcaption align = The VW Golf has fallen in popularity but is still 6th on the list

7. Nissan Qashqai - 29,922 No big surprises here. The Nissan Qashqai came out as the UK’s best-selling SUV for 2021, just like it has done since it was first released in 2007.

A new version of the Qashqai came out in 2021, featuring an updated look and mild hybrid technology.

It wasn’t plain-sailing all year though. The model dropped off the top 10 list altogether in July and August, before climbing its way up to seventh in November and fifth in December.

It’s overall position as seventh most popular car for 2021 is a fair win for Britain's best-loved SUV, we reckon.

8. Ford Puma - 28,697 The Ford Puma came in close second as the UK’s favourite SUV for 2021.

It might have had a better chance of beating the Nissan Qashqai if it hadn’t been for supply problems, which saw sales for the model drop right down in the second half of the year.

Still, the Ford Puma is technically the UK’s best-selling compact SUV – a welcome win against the backdrop of the big Ford Fiesta fail of 2021.

9. Kia Sportage - 27,611 It’s safe to say the Kia Sportage benefited from not bringing out an updated version in 2021.

The new version is actually set to hit dealerships in 2022, meaning Kia has been focused on shifting existing stock this past year.

This meant Kia didn’t have the same supply issues as other brands, helping to pull the Sportage into the top 10 after being at number 16 in 2020.

10. Toyota Yaris - 27,415 2021 was a year of victories for the Toyota Yaris.

Not only did the Japanese supermini make it into the UK’s top 10 best-selling cars, it became the best-selling car in the US, knocking General Motors off the top spot for the first time since 1931. 😮

Toyota handled the semiconductor shortage better than most, as it had stockpiled the essential parts needed to work around the crisis.

This probably has a lot to do with its 2021 success, when so many other brands were struggling to meet demand.

Toyota did have some supply issues in August and September though. But they weren’t enough to stop the Yaris from reaching the top 10. Hats off to them, we say!

Money-saving tips for buying a new car

There’s a ton of stuff to think about when you’re buying a car. If you’re in the market for a shiny new model, here are our top five tips for getting a great deal:

  1. Choose a model that holds its value

New cars lose their value really quickly (amazing investment opportunities they are not).

Some models hold onto their value a lot better than others though, meaning you’ll get more for them when you eventually sell them on.

Some of the car brands that hold their value best at the moment include Mini, Audi, Volkswagen and Lexus.

  1. Think carefully about when you buy the car

Car dealers might be easier to negotiate with as the end of each sales quarter approaches because that’s when they’re most likely to want to shift cars to meet their targets (and get their bonuses).

So you might get a better deal if you approach them at the end of March, June, September or December.

  1. Remember that what car you buy affects how much your insurance is

Always think about insurance costs when you're figuring out what car you can afford.

Remember, cars with bigger engines cost more to insure. Same goes for more expensive, higher-spec models.

  1. Think about buying a ‘run-out’ model

If a car brand has a new model coming out, they’ll be keen to sell the previous model (often called ‘run-out’ models) as quickly as possible.

If you’re happy not having the newest model, opting for a run-out model can be a good tactic for getting a good deal.

  1. Look out for pre-reg cars

Sometimes car dealers buy up cars to help their dealership meet sales targets.

When this happens, the dealership is technically the ‘first owner’ of the car. So if you bought that car, you’d be it’s second owner on paper. These cars are called ‘pre-reg cars’.

Dealers usually sell pre-reg cars to customers at cheaper prices than non pre-reg cars. So you end up paying way less for what is, in reality, a brand new car.

You can ring around dealerships and ask if they have any pre-reg cars in stock. Simple.

Just got your licence? Head here for Cuvva’s top 10 cheap cars for new drivers.

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Updated on 3rd April 2023