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

Sales of new cars are up compared with March 2020, but which models are people buying in big numbers? We take a look as dealerships prepare to reopen...


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What Car? team

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The number of new cars sold in the UK in March was more than 11% higher than in the same month last year, new figures have revealed.

The latest results show that 283,964 new cars were sold in March 2021, one year on from the UK entering its first national lockdown in March 2020. Dealers have not been allowed to open their showrooms physically because of the coronavirus restrictions, but many have been operating socially distanced click-and-collect services.

Of the cars that were sold in March – which is typically a high point for sales because of the month's numberplate change – 45% went to private buyers, while the majority were sold to fleets to be used as company cars.

Petrol-powered cars continued to take the lion's share of sales last month, making up almost half of the total. By contrast, sales of diesel-powered cars were down by more than 31% compared with March 2020, and are down by 47% across the year so far.

Meanwhile, sales of electric vehicles (EVs) – including purely electric, hybrid and plug-in hybrid cars – continue to grow, with sales of such models up by more than 80% compared with March 2020. That's despite recent changes to the Government's electric car grant which saw many more cars becoming ineligible and the grant cap dropping to £2500.

Mercedes EQC charging

It's important to note that, despite the current lockdown restrictions, you can still buy a new car in the UK, including by using our own free New Car Deals buying service to chat with approved dealers. Dealerships are expected to physically reopen on April 12, and many are anticipating a sales boom for new cars. 

Indeed, recent What Car? research has revealed that almost a quarter (22.2%) of buyers are looking to purchase within the next four weeks, while 19.2% are due to put their money down within the next three months.

Of those who do plan to buy within the next three months, more than 70% have already started researching their next car. While many of the buyers we surveyed said that the coronavirus pandemic had not changed how much they were planning to spend on their next car, 6% said their budget had increased.

So which were the most popular cars in March? Below we count down the top 10.

10

Mini Hatchback

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£16,010

RRP from £16,605 to £35,050

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The Mini hatchback is as British as Michael Caine, and as popular among style-savvy city dwellers as high-top trainers. It's one of the classiest cars in its class, too, with low running costs, a stunning interior and a peppy petrol engine.

March sales 4883

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Pros

  • The classiest small car interior
  • Low running costs
  • Strong resale values

Cons

  • Ride is a bit firm
  • Not as safe as rivals
  • Only has two rear seats
9

Ford Puma

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£20,455

RRP from £22,035 to £29,460

See new car deals Save up to £1,901 with What Car?

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

March sales 4886

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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
8

Toyota Yaris

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£18,537

RRP from £19,915 to £24,010

See new car deals Save up to £1,675 with What Car?

If you're looking for a small car that won't cost you a lot to run, the latest Toyota Yaris should definitely be on your shortlist. It's the most frugal car to ever go through our real-world True MPG tests and comes with plenty of kit. Toyota has an excellent reliability record and depreciation is predicted to be slower than with many rivals, so you'll get more of your money back when you come to sell.

March sales 4910

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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
7

Volkswagen Golf

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£22,179

RRP from £23,360 to £39,295

See new car deals Save up to £1,980 with What Car?

The latest Volkswagen Golf is a great all-rounder in the family car class – it's comfortable, reasonably spacious and offers a solid blend of ride and handling. Rivals are better to drive, though, and many have infotainment systems that are easier to get along with.

March sales 5194

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Pros

  • Exceedingly comfortable ride with adaptive suspension
  • Tidy handling
  • Strong and frugal 1.5 TSI 150 engine

Cons

  • Frustratingly fiddly infotainment system is full of software bugs
  • Interior quality could be better
  • There are more spacious rivals
6

BMW 3 Series

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£30,604

RRP from £32,595 to £50,900

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The BMW 3 Series is our reigning Executive Car of the Year in plug-in hybrid 330e form. Not only is it spacious, comfortable and equipped with the best infotainment system you'll find on any new car, but it can travel a good distance without using a single drop of fuel.

March sales 5681

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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
5

Nissan Qashqai

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£20,067

RRP from £23,555 to £31,795

See new car deals Save up to £5,137 with What Car?

It may be one of the older entrants into the family SUV class, but that doesn't stop the Nissan Qashqai shifting in big numbers. It's good to drive, relatively practical and is usually available with decent discounts too. An all-new Qashqai will go on sale in the summer.

March sales 6583

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Pros

  • Big discounts
  • Quiet and smooth 1.3 petrol and 1.5 diesel engines
  • Surefooted handling and easy to drive

Cons

  • Top-end versions are very pricey
  • Ride comfort isn't great on 18in and 19in wheels
  • Reliability is a concern
4

Tesla Model 3

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£40,990

RRP from £40,990 to £59,990

Large electric cars don't come any better than the Tesla Model 3. No matter which version you choose, you'll be getting a swanky interior, a surprisingly big boot and a big range between charges, as well as access to Tesla's network of super-fast electric car chargers. If you're looking to go green, there's no better place to start.

March sales 6585

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Pros

  • Savage acceleration
  • Long range between charges
  • Surprisingly practical
  • Fast charging via Tesla's prolific Supercharger network

Cons

  • Build quality could be better
  • Handling not as entertaining as petrol rivals
  • Some may find the ride a touch firm
3

Mercedes A-Class

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£21,503

RRP from £24,100 to £57,235

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The Mercedes A-Class is every inch the premium family hatchback, from its stunning interior to its comfortable ride. It's usually an expensive choice, but big discounts are available through our free New Car Buying service. 

March sales 7012

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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
2

Ford Fiesta

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£15,620

RRP from £16,645 to £27,080

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The Ford Fiesta was Britain's bestselling new car in 2020, but has fallen to second place so far in 2021. There are good reasons why it remains such a strong seller – it's a cracking small car that's superb to drive and won't cost you much to run.

March sales 7406

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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
1

Vauxhall Corsa

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£16,060

RRP from £16,815 to £33,895

See new car deals Save up to £1,408 with What Car?

There are better all-rounders in the small car market, but it's still easy to see the appeal of the Vauxhall Corsa: it's cheap to run and well-equipped, and you can choose from a wide variety of power options (including a fully electric version).

March sales 7927

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Pros

  • Well equipped
  • Decent boot
  • Efficient engines

Cons

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