Results published today showed that the coronavirus lockdown has hammered new car sales across the UK. A fall of 40% for consumer sales and 47% for fleet registrations was the biggest sales collapse in memory, eclipsing a 30% fall in March 2009 at the height of the global financial crisis more than a decade ago.
As such, the figures for last month represent – at best – what happened in the first two weeks of what was supposed to be the biggest month of the year for new car sales. Across the entire automotive retail sector, there were various challenges associated with production shutdowns and logistics difficulties, while some brands benefitted (relatively speaking) from having an online sales channel to eke out a few more sales compared to those brands that rely purely on showroom traffic.
Still, for some makes and models, two weeks in March netted more new registrations than all of January and February combined. We looked at the overall registration data earlier today, but here are the ten best-selling models that actually escaped from showrooms and onto the streets.
The UK’s ten best-selling cars, March 2020
1. Volkswagen Golf
The outoing Mk7 Volkswagen Golf is certainly going out on a high, having taken the top spot for three of the last four months. It still trails the Ford Fiesta in year-to-date sales after the first quarter of the year, but the old girl is still selling up a storm against much newer rivals. Volkswagen also was the best-performing brand in March, knocking Ford from the top spot overall.
Despite being on sale since 2012, the Mk7 Volkswagen Golf still holds an Expert Rating of 82% in The Car Expert’s New Car Ratings database, which is the best rating of any car in its class. In fact, it’s taken an all-new Golf to knock the old one off our ratings perch.
- Volkswagen Golf (2012 – present) – reviews and ratings
- More Volkswagen news, reviews, features and offers
2. Ford Fiesta
Could 2020 be the year that the Ford Fiesta is finally dethroned? It seems churlish to suggest it when the little Ford still holds the top spot in year-to-date sales after the first three months of the year and with the next three months seemingly written off in terms of meaningful sales. But the Fiesta is certainly having to work harder to stay on top, having been beaten by the Volkswagen Golf for the last couple of months.
The Fiesta currently holds an Expert Rating of 86% in The Car Expert’s New Car Ratings database, which compares reviews from across the UK motoring media. This is higher than any other car in the supermini class, so it seems that motoring journalists and the buying public are in agreement on the Fiesta’s qualities.
3. Mini hatch
It’s almost become a tradition that the Mini hatch range achieves great things every March and September, when consumer sales are at their peak relative to fleet registrations.
The Mini hatch popped back into the top ten in February, which may or may not have coincided with the first media reviews of the new Mini Electric model being published. The Union Jack-waving supermini edged out the Ford Focus for third place by only 24 units, making it the best British-built car two months in a row (note: not all Minis are built in the UK, so you’ll have to check if this is something you’re particularly interested in).
The Mini hatch holds a very solid score of 80% in our New Car Ratings aggregator, which is better than most cars in its class despite being much older than many of its rivals.
4. Ford Focus
The Ford Focus slipped back another place in March, and also fell behind the Mk7 Golf farewell roadshow in year-to-date registrations. If Ford was hoping that the first half of 2020 would be a tough spell for Volkswagen dealers while the old Golf hung around before being shuffled out the door, it’s been a nasty shock. Dealers must be praying that VW runs out of Mk7 stock before the new one arrives in summer, although the nationwide lockdown makes that less likely now.
The Ford Focus currently holds an Expert Rating of 81% in our New Car Ratings database, which is 1% lower than the outgoing Volkswagen Golf but about 3% off the all-new Golf based on its initial launch reviews.
5. Nissan Qashqai
The Nissan Qashqai recovered from a slow February to end up fifth before dealers closed their doors in March. The top-ten midfield was quite close in March, with the fifth-place Nissan only about 100 units behind the third-placed Mini and less than 100 units ahead of the all-new Vauxhall Corsa. Once again, the Qashqai had to yield the honours for ‘Best-selling British-built car’ to the Mini in March, and as usual it’s propping up the entire Nissan brand, taking almost half of all Nissan sales.
The ageing Nissan 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. A replacement is due to be revealed later this year, although the timeframe may be subject to change in light of the chaotic economic conditions currently enveloping the industry.
- Nissan Qashqai (2014 – present) – reviews and ratings
- More Nissan news, ratings, reviews and features
6. Vauxhall Corsa
What a time for the all-new version of your best-selling model to hit the streets. All that promotional budget for the last few months effectively wasted as your dealerships close barely two weeks after the thing finally arrives in showrooms. Such was the fate of the new Vauxhall Corsa, the long-awaited challenger for Team Griffin to take the fight to the Blue Oval and its dominant Fiesta. Still, its sales numbers for March were only 200 units behind the third-placed Mini based on what we did get in the first half of March.
It’s been a trying introduction for the new Corsa, which hasn’t exactly set motoring journalists hearts aflutter based on their first experiences. It currently holds an Expert Rating of 70% on our unique aggregator scale, based on 19 reviews we have gathered so far. That puts it in the bottom half of the supermini class (ninth out of 13 cars we’ve analysed so far). This may change quite dramatically once more reviewers drive the car on local roads, but it’s still a disappointing score for a brand-new model. The Fiesta is our class leader with a score of 86%, while the new Peugeot 208, which is mechanically identical to the Corsa, is currently at 78%.
7. Mercedes-Benz A-Class
The darling of the aspirational small car set continues to be the Mercedes-Benz A-Class. It slipped from fifth to seventh place in March, but still holds its sixth place or year-to-date sales. Mercedes-Benz as an overall brand was outsold by BMW in March, which means it has slipped behind its Bavarian rival to hold fourth place in the ‘Biggest brand in the country’ ranking for the year to date.
The Mercedes-Benz A-Class has an Expert Rating of 77% in The Car Expert’s New Car Rating system. It ranks highly for safety, winning awards from Euro NCAP, Thatcham and What Car? for its protective qualities.
- Mercedes-Benz A-Class (2018 – present) – ratings and reviews
- More Mercedes-Benz news, reviews, features and offers
8. Kia Sportage
After falling out of the top ten in February, the Kia Sportage reappeared in March. It also bounces up to eighth place in year-to-date sales, leapfrogging the BMW 3 Series and Volkswagen Polo, which both dropped out of the top ten.
The Sportage currently holds an Expert Rating of 72% in our aggregated New Car Ratings database, which is midfield for medium SUVs but a couple of points behind the best-selling Nissan Qashqai and quite a margin behind the top cars in the mid-size SUV segment.
9. Tesla Model 3
The last two places on the top ten ladder were rather unexpected, but it’s been a crazy month so maybe let’s not draw too many conclusions. The Tesla Model 3 continues to sell very well, but to crack the top ten in the month of March was certainly a surprise.
Some industry sources have pointed to Tesla’s online-only sales model as giving it an advantage over traditional vehicle sales, as the brand could keep selling and delivering cars for at least a week after many bricks-and-mortar dealerships had closed their doors. Regardless, it’s still an impressive result for the upstart electric car brand, and realistically the current economic chaos may help Tesla hold off the inevitable electric rivals a little longer.
The Tesla Model 3 currently holds an Expert Rating of 82% in our New Car Ratings database, which is certainly very good. However, there have been very few local reviews yet so this may vary by quite a bit (either up or down) in coming months.
10. Range Rover Evoque
Tenth place went to another unexpected returnee, with the Range Rover Evoque making its second appearance in the top ten after popping up in the same place last October. This may have been helped by Jaguar Land Rover managing to keep its factories open a week or two after rivals in Europe had shut down, but nevertheless it was a rare good-news story for the UK car industry in the current economic climate.
The second-generation Evoque currently holds an Expert Rating of 82% in our aggregated Expert Ratings database, which is a very good score and places it a single point behind the Volvo XC40 in class rankings.