It’s always been the biggest month of the year for new car sales, and March this year saw better-than-expected results as we marked a year of coronavirus disrupting the new car market.
However, better-than-expected was still far-worse-than-average for March, with registration results that were massively down on the heady days of the middle of the last decade.
All of the improvement came from the fleet sector, which seemed to bounce back by quite a lot after a year of companies avoiding any new car investment. Private new car sales were still down on the same month last year, which was not that surprising given that showrooms remained closed all month.
So, ahead of showrooms reopening in England in April, we look at which cars topped the tables in March.
The UK’s best-selling cars, March 2021
1. Vauxhall Corsa
The battle for top spot has certainly started out well for 2021. The Vauxhall Corsa was best of all in January, then fell behind the Ford Fiesta in February, but returned to the top of the charts once again in March. As a result, it extended its slender lead in year-to-date sales at the end of the first quarter.
The petrol and diesel versions of the new Corsa currently hold an Expert Rating of 72% on our unique aggregator scale, based on 26 reviews we have gathered so far. That puts it in the bottom half of the supermini class, although the all-electric Corsa-e does score slightly better with an Expert Rating of 74%.
- Vauxhall Corsa (2020 onwards) – Expert Rating
- Vauxhall Corsa-e (2020 onwards) – Expert Rating
- More Vauxhall ratings, reviews, news and features
2. Ford Fiesta
Second in January, first in February and back to second in March. The Ford Fiesta-Vauxhall Corsa battle is carrying on. This year looks like it will be the toughest one yet for the best-selling car of the last decade. For the rest of us, it’s shaping up to be a fascinating battle.
The good news for car buyers is that sales battles between manufacturers usually lead to some excellent deals for car buyers.
The Fiesta currently holds an Expert Rating of 81% in The Car Expert’s unique Expert Rating index, which aggregates reviews from 25 of the UK’s top motoring websites. That’s some 9% better than the Corsa, so the motoring media still clearly prefers the Ford.
3. Mercedes-Benz A-Class
The Mercedes-Benz A-Class keeps on selling up a storm, third this month and the country’s best-selling family-sized car. It remains in fourth place in year-to-date sales at the end of the first quarter, but it’s closing in on the Nissan Qashqai.
The A-Class has an Expert Rating of 76% in The Car Expert’s unique aggregated Expert Rating index, based on 47 UK reviews. That score has slipped a point in the last month, as some sources have recently updated their ratings. It ranks highly for safety, winning awards from Euro NCAP, Thatcham and What Car? in previous years for its protective qualities.
- Mercedes-Benz A-Class (2018 onwards) – Expert Rating
- More Mercedes-Benz ratings, reviews, news and features
4. Tesla Model 3
The Tesla Model 3 continues to be the country’s best-selling purely electric car, although recent changes to the plug-in car grant may affect that in coming months as the Model 3 effectively became £3,000 more expensive in March.
The Tesla Model 3 currently holds an Expert Rating of 86% in our New Car Ratings database, which is very high. It has dropped a point in the last few months, but it’s still very highly regarded by the motoring media.
5. Nissan Qashqai
It may be weeks from retirement, but the ageing Nissan Qashqai keeps on racking up sales ahead of its imminent replacement by an all-new model. Fifth in March means that it is still the top-selling British-built car, and at the end of the first quarter it holds third place in year-to-date sales.
The Qashqai holds an overall rating of 74% in our unique Expert Rating index, which is in the midfield of the compact crossover segment and in the bottom half of scores for a top ten-selling car. The replacement should arrive on UK streets this summer, but the new car will have a tough job in living up to the sales success of the current model over its seven-year run.
6. BMW 3 Series
It might be the traditional flag-bear for the compact executive car segment, but it’s been a while since we’ve seen the BMW 3 Series in the top ten. The huge increase in fleet registrations, and slight fall in private sale, will almost have a fair amount to do with that.
The 3 Series rates a couple of points better than the electric Tesla Model 3 in our Expert Rating index, and a long way ahead of other petrol/diesel/plug-in rivals from Audi, Mercedes and others. As of April 2021, it has an overall score of 88%, which is exceptionally high.
7. Volkswagen Golf
Based on the last few years, it may seem surprising to see the Volkswagen Golf down in seventh place. However, this month is an improvement for the Golf, which didn’t even make the top ten last month. Year-to-date, it also ends the first quarter in seventh place.
This is probably the last generation of the Golf as we know it, as the world moves to electric vehicles. The new Volkswagen ID.3 represents VW’s future as we progress through a decade where petrol and diesel cars will be progressively replaced by electric models.
As more local reviews of different UK-spec Golf models have been published in the media, the Golf’s initial stellar Expert Rating slipped from a high of 85% to its current level of 80%. The much-vaunted ‘all-digital’ interior has drawn criticism from 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’s interesting to see review scores that are consistently below the previous model’s results.
8. Toyota Yaris
The new Toyota Yaris made its debut in the best-sellers list in March, the third of four small hatchbacks to feature in the top ten this month.
In a great month for the new Yaris, it also won the European Car of the Year award, which is one of the most presitigious new car awards in the world. Here in the UK, it has also picked up a few class awards since it was launched, but its overall score of 76% on our Expert Rating index is several points behind the class leaders.
9. Ford Puma
After getting comfortable in the top ten, the Ford Puma dropped out of the best-sellers list in February. However, it returned in March to take ninth place, which is the same position it holds in year-to-date sales.
The bug-eyed small SUV has been popular with critics, currently holding a rating of 82% on our unique Expert Rating index. This remains a best-in-class result, but it has slipped a few points in the last few months as we’ve added some new reviews and other sources have revised their initial opinions.
10. Mini hatch
It was the seventh best-selling car of 2020, but March was the first time that the Mini hatch has made the top ten in 2021, creeping into tenth place. It’s still outside the top ten in year-to-date sales, however.
Bring a new registration plate month, March is normally one of the most successful months of the year for the Mini hatch. But this year private sales were down while fleet registrations were well up, which has probably prevented the Mini from finishing more highly in the results.
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
New car showrooms reopen in mid-April for England, so we could see a significant improvement in overall results next month, particularly from private buyers. We’ll be back in a few weeks with the results.