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The best-selling cars of 2021

For so long the bridesmaid, the Vauxhall Corsa finally became the bride in 2021 as it comfortably topped the new car sales charts

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Remember the end of 2020 and New Year 2021, when we all thought that the world would return to normal? Turns out that was a bit far-fetched… 2021 turned out to be every bit as challenging for the car industry.

The circumstances were quite different, however, as the year progressed. Instead of car dealers being all locked up with unsold cars all over the place, we had the exact opposite situation. Demand was high as customers returned to forecourts with money to burn, but car manufacturers couldn’t build enough cars thanks to a global shortage of tiny semiconductor computer chips.

By the end of the year, several of the country’s most popular vehicles were simply not available to purchase and had waiting lists stretching for many months. This was good news, however, for manufacturers who did have production lines rolling and were able to supply vehicles. That threw up some interesting sales results over the last six months, and the chaos is set to continue into the first half of 2022.

The headline news, of course, was that the UK has a new sales champion. After 12 years on top of the charts, the Ford Fiesta was dethroned thanks to a combination of declining popularity, supply difficulties, internal competition from the Ford Puma small SUV, and an updated model in the offing for 2022. So far did the Fiesta fall at the end of the year that it didn’t even end up in the top ten for 2021.

So without further ado, here are the ten best-selling cars of 2021.

The ten best-selling cars of 2021

1. Vauxhall Corsa

Vauxhall Corsa Ultimate

The king is dead, long live the king! The Vauxhall Corsa has been a mainstay of the UK new car market for decades, so it’s something of a surprise that it’s taken so long to reach the top spot in the sales charts.

The current model Corsa, launched in 2020, has been a sales success ever since it was launched. The first Corsa developed under Vauxhall’s new Stellantis (nee PSA Group) ownership, it is available with either petrol or diesel engines, or as a fully electric Corsa-e version. It shares most of its underpinnings with the current Peugeot 208, but in the UK it’s the Vauxhall that’s far more popular.

It’s an indication of the topsy-turvy nature of new car sales in 2021 that Vauxhall sold about 6,000 fewer Corsas than it did in 2020 – and 9,000 fewer cars than Ford Fiestas – yet jumped from second to first place.

Despite its popularity, the petrol and diesel versions of the new Corsa hold a rather poor Expert Rating of 64% on our industry-leading Expert Rating Index, although the all-electric Corsa-e manages a few points better at 67%. Those scores put the Corsa in the bottom half of the supermini class, suggesting that journalists are not as excited about the Corsa as customers seem to be.

2. Tesla Model 3

Tesla Model 3 (2019) new car ratings and reviews | The Car Expert

With one month to go in 2021, the Tesla Model 3 wasn’t even in the top ten best-sellers list. Then came December, when almost 10,000 new Model 3s were registered – the single best monthly performance of any car all year.

As a result, the Model 3 leapt from outside the top ten to second place right at the end of the year. It was a tremendous result for Tesla, and was a massive contributor to another record month for EV sales.

The American company continues to dominate the electric car scene, which will have other manufacturers scratching their heads as to why their own EVs are not selling up a storm in the same way. It should be noted that Tesla operates in a very different way to other car manufacturers as it doesn’t run conventional dealerships, so its results tend to be up and down to a far greater degree than other brands.

The Tesla Model 3 currently holds an Expert Rating of 84% according to our industry-leading Expert Rating Index, which is much higher than an Audi A4 or Mercedes C-Class, and just behind the BMW 3 Series.

3. Mini hatch

Minii 3-door wallpaper 2021

Despite being the oldest car in the top ten, the twice-facelifted Mini hatch enjoyed one of most successful years for a long time (in terms of market share, if not outright sales). Being built in Britain, that’s also a great result for the UK economy and the local car industry.

The Mini had very strong end to the year, finishing second in October, top in November and second again in December. In a similar result to the Tesla Model 3, the Mini was out of the top ten altogether with two months to go, jumped to seventh in November and then up to third at the end of the year.

The Mini’s success was certainly helped by struggles for many other popular models, as the Ford Fiesta crashed out of the top ten while the Volkswagen Golf and Polo both struggled in recent months as well, as did the Mercedes A-Class.

The Mini hatch still holds a very solid score of 76% in our Expert Ratings index, which is one of the top scores in its class. The electric version doesn’t score so well, with an Expert Rating of only 63% that puts it close to the bottom of its class.

4. Mercedes-Benz A-Class

Mercedes-Benz A-Class hatch – Britain's best-selling cars of 2020

The Mercedes-Benz A-Class slipped from second in year-to-date registrations in November to fourth at the close of play thanks to another poor month in December. Like many others, it was a victim of a lack of semiconductor chips, with Mercedes simply unable to supply cars to waiting customers.

Fourth place was actually one place up for the A-Class compared to 2020, despite Mercedes shifting 7,000 fewer units in 2021. In other words, it benefitted from even bigger supply problems for the Ford Fiesta and Volkswagen Golf.

The A-Class currently has an Expert Rating of 69% in The Car Expert’s unique aggregated Expert Rating index. It ranks highly for safety, winning awards from Euro NCAP, Thatcham and What Car? over the years for its protective qualities.

5. Volkswagen Polo

Volkswagen Polo (2021 facelift) – Expert Rating

A poor December result took the shine off the Volkswagen Polo’s 2021 sales results after a strong few months in the second half of the year. The Polo slipped from third to fifth in the last month, falling out of the top ten altogether in December sales. It’s still an improvement on the previous year, where it had finished eighth.

A facelifted Polo started arriving in dealerships at the very end of the year, but it looks like dealers simply couldn’t get enough of them to maintain sales.

The Volkswagen Polo currently holds an Expert Rating of 75%, which makes it one of the top-rated small cars according to our industry-leading Expert Rating index. Whether this will improve further once the facelifted model gathers more media reviews remains to be seen.

6. Volkswagen Golf

Volkswagen Golf Style (2020 onwards) Expert Rating

Another car that limped to the end of the 2021 sales race, the Volkswagen Golf slipped from second place to sixth over the last two months as supply dried up.

Volkswagen sold 13,000 fewer Golfs in 2021 than it did in 2020, when it finished third in the sales charts, which equates to a drop of about 30%. Interestingly, however, it did sell 11,000 ID.3 electric hatchbacks, which is effectively VW’s EV equivalent of the Golf.

The Golf’s Expert Rating of 76% is identical to the Ford Focus, as well as its electric sibling, the Volkswagen ID.3. It’s also a few points better than either the Mercedes-Benz A-Class or the Audi A3.

7. Nissan Qashqai

Best-selling cars 2021 | Nissan Qashqai

The new Nissan Qashqai has had a strong start to its production life. While it has dropped a place compared to 2020 and sold fewer vehicles overall, that’s largely due to the all-new model replacing the old one. That often causes a few low-selling months for manufacturers, as the factory shuts down to re-tool for the new model then builds a run of pre-production vehicles to make sure everything works, then gradually ramps up production of the new model.

The new Qashqai takes over its predecessor’s mantle as the country’s most popular SUV/crossover model, a title it looks set to keep holding into 2022.

Our Expert Rating report for the new Qashqai puts it right in the midfield of the medium SUV segment with a score of 71%. It’s still early days and there’ll be more reviews published in coming months, so this could change – either up or down – in coming weeks.

8. Ford Puma

Ford Puma (2020 onwards) Expert Rating

After a very strong first half of the year, the Puma faded in recent months due to the same story of supply problems. Ford did manage to get it back into the top ten in December, which helped it to limp to eighth place at the end of the year after tracking as high as fourth at the end of September.

This may well have come at the expensive of its hatchback sibling, the Fiesta, which bombed out of the top ten altogether after 12 years on top of the charts.

Ford’s junior crossover has been popular with critics, currently holding a rating of 77% on our unique Expert Rating Index. That remains the highest-rated mainstream petrol small SUV, with only a couple of electric models and the more expensive Volvo XC40 ranked higher.

9. Kia Sportage

Kia Sportage (2015 - 2021) - Expert Rating

The Kia Sportage was another car that sat solidly in the top ten for most of the year before fading in recent months, ending up ninth overall.

The strong sales results were the last hurrah for the popular fourth-generation Sportage, and it bows out of production with another successful year as an all-new model takes the baton for 2022.

As it comes to the end of its life, the outgoing Sportage holds an Expert Rating of 64% in our industry-leading Expert Ratings Index, which puts it firmly in the bottom half of the medium SUV sector. Kia will hoping that its boldly styled replacement can improve on this score.

10. Toyota Yaris

2020 Toyota Yaris review - front

The last entry in the 2021 top ten is the Toyota Yaris, which has appeared quite regularly in the monthly best-sellers list through the year.

Toyota has generally coped much better with semiconductor supply than most manufacturers, largely because Toyota owns its own semiconductor factory rather than relying on outside suppliers.

The Yaris currently holds an overall score of 70% on our Expert Rating Index, and has been quietly improving in popularity with both critics and customers over the last year.

The latest from The Car Expert

Stuart Masson
Stuart Massonhttps://www.thecarexpert.co.uk/
Stuart is the Editorial Director of our suite of sites: The Car Expert, The Van Expert and The Truck Expert. Originally from Australia, Stuart has had a passion for cars and the automotive industry for over thirty years. He spent a decade in automotive retail, and now works tirelessly to help car buyers by providing independent and impartial advice.