Well, wasn’t that a year to remember? With a terrible year finally consigned to the history books, we now look back at the UK’s best-selling cars of 2020 to review exactly what happened.
Overall, new car registrations were down by 29% compared to 2019, with private sales down by 27% and fleet registrations down 31%. That was a huge drop for the car industry, especially for about ten weeks in Spring when dealerships were pretty much closed down all over the UK.
On a brighter note, 2020 saw a substantial kick-start to the sales of electric cars, which improved sales by 186% on the previous year (against an overall market fall of 29%, remember). Plug-in hybrids were also up by 91% and regular hybrids improved by 12%. The flip side of that was diesel sales continuing to collapse, ending up about 48% down on 2019 levels.
As we all cross fingers and pray to the gods for a better 2021, let’s look back at the ten best-selling cars of 2020.
The UK’s best-selling cars of 2020
1. Ford Fiesta
For the 12th year in a row, the Ford Fiesta was the UK’s best-selling car. Job done, roll on 2021. Right?
Well, not quite. This was a tough fight for the champ, with sales down by 37% compared to 2019 against a market fall of 29%. Even worse, Fiesta sales have basically halved over the last two years, so we could be seeing the end of its reign atop the sales charts (although it shows how dominant the Fiesta has been that it can lose half its sales and still top the tables…)
Vauxhall’s new Corsa outsold the Fiesta slightly in the second half of the year, with most of the Fiesta’s final margin coming right back in the first two months of the year. In addition to a resurgent Corsa, the Fiesta also suffered friendly fire from the successful launch of the Ford Puma, which is basically a Fiesta on stilts. A late push in December ensured that the Fiesta held onto its crown for one more year, but it looks like we could be in for an intriguing battle for sales honours in 2021.
The Fiesta currently holds an Expert Rating of 82% in The Car Expert’s unique Expert Rating index, which aggregates reviews from 25 of the UK’s top motoring websites. That puts it second in class, only a point behind behind the SEAT Ibiza, and some 11% better than the Corsa.
2. Vauxhall Corsa
The all-new Vauxhall Corsa moved up from fourth place in 2019 to second in 2020, and was the UK’s top seller over the second half of the year. Its charge failed to steal the crown from its arch-rival, the Ford Fiesta, but we could be in for a ding-dong battle for 2021.
The new Corsa may have sold up a storm in 2020, but it hasn’t really wowed the critics. The regular petrol and diesel Corsa models currently hold an Expert Rating of 71% on our unique aggregator scale, which drops it into the bottom half of the supermini class. The all-electric Corsa-e does score slightly better with an Expert Rating of 74%, but both scores are well behind the mechanically identical Peugot 208 and e-208 models.
- Vauxhall Corsa (2020 onwards) – Expert Rating
- Vauxhall Corsa-e (2020 onwards) – Expert Rating
- More Vauxhall ratings, reviews, news and features
3. Volkswagen Golf
Like the Corsa, 2020 saw an all-new generation of Volkswagen’s top-selling model. The Mk 8 Golf came with all the usual fanfare associated with the latest version of one of the world’s most popular cars, and it proved equally popular with buyers.
Indeed, this is probably the last generation of the Golf as we know it, as the world moves to electric vehicles. This was shown in December, when the Golf’s electric counterpart, the all-new Volkswagen ID.3, made its debut in the top ten. The Golf may still be Volkswagen’s most important model in the present, but the ID.3 represents VW’s future.
As more local reviews of different UK-spec Golf models have been published in the media, the Golf’s initial stellar Expert Rating is gradually starting to slip. The much-vaunted ‘all-digital’ interior has drawn criticism from several reviewers who have found it inferior to the more conventional cabin of the previous-generation model. It’s not exactly disastrous news for Volkswagen, but it is interesting to see review scores that are consistently below the previous model’s results.
4. Ford Focus
It may have been outsold by the Volkswagen Golf, but the Ford Focus is still one of the best-selling cars of 2020 and an excellent choice in the family hatchback market.
Like its little brother, the Fiesta, the Focus picked up some mild hybrid engines in the second half of the year, but it still lacks a fully-electric or plug-in hybrid option. It’s likely that we’ll see the PHEV setup from the Kuga mid-sized SUV drop into the Focus sometime soon, and Ford dealers will be looking forward to having a strong performer in the electrified family car marketplace.
In terms of critical appraisal, the Ford Focus currently holds an Expert Rating of 80% in our Expert Ratings database, which is now level with the slowly-slipping Golf and three points better than than the Mercedes-Benz A-Class.
5. Mercedes-Benz A-Class
After two-and-a-half years on sale, the Mercedes-Benz A-Class isn’t losing any popularity. It ended up in fifth place for the second year running, and even topped the charts in October.
With hatchback and saloon body styles, a plug-in hybrid powertrain option and bonkers Mercedes-AMG hot hatch models, there’s pretty much an A-Class to suit everyone these days.
The Mercedes A-Class has an Expert Rating of 77% in The Car Expert’s unique aggregated Expert Rating index, based on 45 UK reviews. That’s a reasonable score, although a few points behind the Ford Focus and Volkswagen Golf. It ranks highly for safety, winning awards from Euro NCAP, Thatcham and What Car? for its protective qualities.
- Mercedes-Benz A-Class (2018 onwards) – Expert Rating
- More Mercedes-Benz ratings, reviews, news and features
6. Nissan Qashqai
2020 will mark the final full year on sale for the current version of the most popular car that’s actually built in Britain. The second-generation Nissan Qashqai has been around since 2014, and an all-new model will be unveiled in early 2021 before going on sale later in the year.
The Qashqai currently holds an Expert Rating of 74% in our New Car Ratings database, which is midfield for the compact crossover segment and in the bottom half of scores for a top ten-selling car. The replacement will probably score better than that, but the new model will have a tough job to live up to the sales success of the outgoing one over its seven-year run.
7. Mini hatch
Another elderly model still selling strongly is the Mini hatch, which finished the year in seventh place and was pipped to the post as the top-selling British-built car of 2020 by the Nissan Qashqai.
Another update to the Mini is due to hit UK streets in early 2021, which will try to keep things fresh for its fashion-sensitive buyers until an all-new replacement eventually reaches showrooms in 2022 or 2023.
The Mini hatch holds a very solid score of 80% in our Expert Ratings aggregator, which is better than most cars in its class despite being much older than many of its rivals. We’ve now indexed the new Mini Electric model as well, and interestingly its score is currently only 73% – although this may change by a few points (either up or down) as more reviews are published.
- Mini hatch (2014 onwards) – Expert Rating
- Mini Electric (2020 onwards) – Expert Rating
- More Mini ratings, reviews, news and features
8. Volkswagen Polo
It was a quiet end to another good year for the Volkswagen Polo, which hasn’t been seen in the top ten since September. In the end, it clung onto eighth place (up from ninth in 2019) to hold off the charging Ford Puma by just under 700 units.
The supermini class is a tough battleground, and the Polo is facing competition from all directions. The Ford Fiesta and Vauxhall Corsa obviously take the largest sales volumes, while the Peugeot 208, Renault Clio and SEAT Ibiza are wooing more and more potential Polo purchasers all the time. Plus there are electric options like the e-208, Corsa-e and Renault Zoe, as well as in-house faux-SUV models cutting its lunch – the VW T-Cross and T-Roc.
9. Ford Puma
The new Ford Puma arrived with a bit of a bang in the UK market, becoming the critics’ favourite mini-SUV/crossover thing and scoring highly with customers as well. It featured in the top ten for the last five months of the year, ending up ninth overall and just falling short of catching the Volkswagen Polo.
While that may all sound like good news for Ford and its dealers, it appears to have come at a hefty price as the Puma looks to be stealing sales from its hatchback sibling, the Fiesta, as well as other Ford models like the Focus and EcoSport. As long as those customers are staying within the Blue Oval family, however, Ford won’t be too worried.
The bug-eyed small SUV has been popular with critics, currently holding a rating of 83% on our unique Expert Rating index. This remains a best-in-class result, but it has slipped a couple of points in the last month as we’ve added some new reviews and other sources have revised their initial opinions. A hot new ST version may help swing that score back upwards in coming months, however.
10. Volvo XC40
Rounding out the top ten is the highly regarded Volvo XC40, which has been steadily growing in popularity over the last couple of years. It placed in the best-sellers’ list for the last four months of 2020 after popping up sporadically earlier in the year.
The XC40 has been leading the charge for Volvo, which has seen a steady growth in its market share for the last five years, and that trend seems set to carry on into 2021.
The Volvo XC40 is the class leader among small SUV/crossover models, with an Expert Rating of 83%, although that score has fallen a couple of points from a previous high of 85% in recent months. A new plug-in hybrid model has recently joined the range, while a fully-electric version is now in production and set to arrive in UK showrooms in early 2021.