August 2021 new car sales revealed: Who were the winners and losers?

Sales of new cars were well down in August ahead of September's plate change, but of the models which did leave showrooms, which were the most popular? We have the answer...


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What Car? team

UK's best-selling new car

New car sales in August were down by more than a fifth compared with the same time last year, new figures have revealed.

Just 68,033 new cars left showrooms last month, and while August is traditionally a quiet time for car sales ahead of September's plate change, that number is 22% less than in the same month in 2020. The fall has been blamed on continuing shortages of semiconductor chips in the supply chain, causing waiting times for new models to increase dramatically and some car makers to trim their line-ups to meet demand.

The latest data shows that the biggest drop in sales came from the fleet and company car sector, which accounted for almost 46,000 vehicles alone last August, but this year took just over 33,300 new cars. Sales to private buyers were also down by more than 15%.

Of the cars that did leave showrooms, most (57.6%) were powered by petrol (including petrol mild hybrids), while 12.4% were powered by diesel, including diesel-engined mild hybrids.

Sales of plug-in hybrid and electric cars are up, however, by 72.1% and 32.2% respectively in August, compared with the same month in 2020. Across the year so far, such cars have accounted for 15% of all new car sales, compared with 8.2% across the first eight months of 2020.

So, which were the most popular models in August? Below we count down the top 10.

10

Toyota Corolla

If you're looking for a first step into greener motoring, the Toyota Corolla is well worth looking at. That's because it's a hybrid, so it can run for short distances without using any petrol yet still offers all the space and comfort you'd expect from a family car.

August sales 1033

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Pros

  • Seriously low CO2 emissions
  • Comfortable ride
  • Loads of standard kit

Cons

  • Cramped in the back
  • Below-par infotainment system
  • Lots of road noise
9

Mercedes A-Class

There's plenty to like about this premium family hatchback, from the fact that it's comfortable for long trips to its impressive infotainment system and tech-heavy interior. There's a version to suit everyone, from the A250e plug-in hybrid to the super-frugal A180d diesel.

August sales 1047

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Pros

  • Strong safety rating
  • Feature-packed infotainment system
  • Good to drive and very comfortable

Cons

  • Not cheap to buy outright or on finance
  • Restrictive and pricey option packs
  • Poor reliability record
8

Ford Fiesta

The Ford Fiesta was Britain's best-selling new car in 2020, but has fallen down the list so far in 2021. Still, there are good reasons why it has traditionally been a strong seller; it's a cracking small hatchback that's superb to drive and won't cost you much to run.

August sales 1057

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Pros

  • Brilliant to drive
  • Punchy Ecoboost engines, especially the Hybrid versions
  • Good fuel economy and CO2 emissions

Cons

  • Some rivals are better value
  • Decent but not class-leading practicality
  • Important safety kit not standard
7

Vauxhall Corsa

There are more well-rounded family car choices, but a range of efficient engines and a family-friendly boot keep the latest Corsa selling in big numbers. In fact, across the year so far, it's the best-selling new car in the UK.

August sales 1166

 

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Pros

  • Well equipped
  • Decent boot
  • Efficient engines

Cons

  • Laggy and confusing infotainment system
  • Below-par safety rating
  • Poor resale values
6

Hyundai Tucson

Fancy a new large SUV? The latest Hyundai Tucson is certainly worth looking at, because it has plenty of space for your family and all of their luggage, plus there's a frugal hybrid option available. Add in a classy, well-made interior, and it's easy to recommend.

August sales 1169

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Pros

  • Frugal hybrid is a worthy alternative to diesel
  • Well-made interior
  • Spacious for passengers and luggage

Cons

  • So-so handling
  • Ride can get choppy at times
  • No NCAP safety rating as yet
5

BMW 3 Series

BMW's executive saloon is one of the best cars of its kind, especially in plug-in hybrid 330e form. It combines family-friendly practicality with a keen driving style, and comes equipped with the best infotainment system around.

August sales 1277

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Pros

  • Brilliant fun to drive
  • Class-leading infotainment system
  • Great range of engines

Cons

  • Ride is rather firm – particularly in M Sport versions
  • Not as well finished inside as an Audi A4
  • Adjustable lumbar support costs extra
4

Kia Sportage

Kia's family SUV represents decent value for money, as long as you stick to the lower trim levels, which still come well equipped. However, plenty of rival models are better to drive, and an all-new Sportage is due later this year – and that's likely to hurt resale values of today's car.

August sales 1355

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Pros

  • Great value – in the right spec
  • Good resale values
  • Decent rear seat space and boot

Cons

  • Diesel engines are very noisy
  • Lumpy ride
  • No AEB on the most recommendable versions
3

Toyota Yaris

Our True MPG test proves that the latest Yaris hybrid has a remarkable ability to sip fuel gently. In town, it achieved 80mpg, which is almost double the economy of conventionally powered small hatchbacks. It should also be very reliable and hold its value well. Just bear in mind that the ride is quite firm and the rear seats are cramped.

August sales 1480

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Pros

  • Excellent real-world fuel economy
  • Toyota's reliability record
  • Slow predicted depreciation

Cons

  • Below-par infotainment system
  • Firm ride – especially on models with 17in alloys
  • Cramped in the back
2

Volkswagen Polo

Few small car rivals can match the Polo for sheer quality. Combine that with its supple suspension and quiet driving manners, and it's easy to see why it consistently sells in big numbers.

August sales 1761

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Pros

  • Comfortable ride
  • Generous interior space
  • Quiet on the move

Cons

  • Ford Fiesta is more fun to drive
  • Gutless entry-level petrol
  • Standard safety kit could be better
1

Ford Puma

This small SUV is a former What Car? Car of the Year and remains the best small SUV you can buy. Why? Well, in addition to having enough space for your family and being great to drive, the Ford Puma can also help to reduce your fuel bills thanks to its clever mild-hybrid technology.

August sales 1801

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Pros

  • Great fun to drive
  • Remarkable blend of performance and fuel economy
  • Big and cleverly designed boot

Cons

  • Rear space is adequate rather than outstanding
  • Visibility could be better
  • Volkswagen T-Roc is more comfortable and quieter