The UK's top 10 best-selling cars 2021
Shock result sees the Ford Fiesta out of the top 10; Vauxhall Corsa was the biggest seller, but was outsold by the Ford Transit van
Now we’ve entered into a new year, the sales figures for the UK’s best-selling cars have been revealed. It was a very tough year for the car industry, with the recovery from the coronavirus pandemic scuppered by a widespread semiconductor shortage. In some cases, this shortage has caused production delays and even total shutdowns.
You’d have felt this impact if you were looking to buy a new car in the last year, because delivery times were often much longer than usual. Some carmakers even resorted to selling cars without all the features they were designed to get; BMW’s infotainment screens went without their touchscreen capabilities, and lower-spec trim levels were created for some cars, including some Land Rover models. Worryingly, we’ve also heard of manufacturers cutting out safety equipment entirely to save on semiconductors.
Among it all, the Vauxhall Corsa emerged as the best-selling car in the UK for 2021. The biggest surprise, though, is the absence of the Ford Fiesta from the top 10, with the model previously being the UK’s best-selling car for the last decade. Only the Ford Puma finished in the top 10 best-selling cars.
A surprising result is that the Tesla Model 3 was the second-biggest seller, with the EV now a common sight on UK roads. They’re especially popular with company car drivers who love its tech and super-low running costs.
In fact, more electric cars were sold in 2021 than in the previous five years combined, according to the figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT). The best-selling electric cars were the Tesla Model 3, Kia e-Niro and Volkswagen ID.3. Meanwhile, the BMW 330e, Mercedes A 250 e and Volvo XC40 Recharge were the best-selling plug-in hybrids.
Overall, new car sales were up 1% on COVID-hit 2020, but 2021 was still the second-worst year since 1992. Around 1.65 million cars were registered last year, about three-quarters of the number of cars sold in 2019.
Petrol cars made up 58% of sales. Electric cars accounted for 11.6%, while hybrids and plug-in hybrids made up nearly 16% in total. Sales of diesel cars fell by 14.2% compared to last year, and in later parts of the year, sales of electric cars were higher than diesel-powered models.
The biggest-selling vehicle in the UK in 2021 was the Ford Transit van. Its various iterations helped the light commercial vehicle market record 355,000 sales last year, a 21% increase from the year before.
Best-selling cars of 2021
UK sales in 2021: 40,914
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 2021: 34,783
The Tesla Model 3 is Tesla’s pure electric alternative to the BMW 3 Series and Mercedes C-Class. It offers exceptional value for company-car drivers; as with any electric car, the Benefit-in-Kind (BiK) tax rate is just 1% - compared to around 30-35% for similarly priced petrol and diesel cars.
But the Tesla’s appeal isn’t just in tax savings. It offers very advanced technology, both in terms of its infotainment and driver assistance, plus exciting performance and a very impressive range between charges. Motorway journeys are a piece of cake in a Model 3, especially as the Tesla Supercharger network is one of the best in the UK and the chargers can be found at most major service stations.
UK sales in 2021: 31,792
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 2021: 30,710
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 2021: 30,634
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 2021: 30,240
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 - although the latest generation is arguably not as much of an upgrade as we were initially expecting.
UK sales in 2021: 29,922
The outgoing Nissan Qashqai was a real success for the brand and it seems the fresh new model has caught the attention of buyers too. Built in Britain, the new Qashqai improves on its predecessor by offering a bigger boot, a better quality interior and slightly better fuel economy, courtesy of a small level of electrification fitted to the 1.3-litre petrol engine.
From the outside, it’s clearly a Qashqai, but the styling is sharper and more attractive than before. That sums up the new model; it’s familiar but most aspects have been tweaked and improved. Don’t be surprised to see it in this list regularly in the coming months.
UK sales in 2021: 28,697
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 2021: 27,611
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 2021: 27,415
The striking new Toyota Yaris has been an instant hit with buyers, as it’s become one of the most popular superminis. Now hybrid-only, the Yaris is very efficient; around town, it can run on electric power most of the time. Even so, it’s much cheaper to buy compared to electric superminis like the Corsa-e and Renault ZOE.
The Toyota Yaris has never been a car aimed at keen drivers, but the new model is better to drive than its predecessors. For the most part, the CVT automatic gearbox keeps things smooth, as well. There are many reasons why you’d buy a Yaris, and Toyota’s new 10-year ‘Relax’ warranty is the icing on the cake.
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