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

UK new car registrations soared 674% last month, but which models are people buying in big numbers?...


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What Car? team

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The UK new car market continued its recovery in May, with sales rising 674% compared with the same month last year, when coronavirus restrictions meant showrooms were shut and only a small number of cars were registered.

A closer look at last month's figures from industry body the Society of Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) shows that fleet demand was particularly strong, accounting for 50.7% of the 156,737 total. However, it's worth noting that total sales were still 14.7% down on May 2019 and 13.2% lower than the average May figure over the past decade.

Petrol-engined cars (including mild hybrids) remained the most popular choice, making up 60.4% of the total, while diesels accounted for 16.7%, full hybrids and plug-in hybrids 14.6% and fully electric cars 8.4%.

SMMT boss Mike Hawes said: “With dealerships back open and a brighter, sunnier, economic outlook, May’s registrations are as good as could reasonably be expected. Increased business confidence is driving the recovery, something that needs to be maintained and translated in private consumer demand as the economy emerges from pandemic support measures.”

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

10

Audi A3

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£22,707

RRP from £23,795 to £46,165

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Looking for a family hatchback with a posh badge on its bonnet? Then the Audi A3 definitely deserves a place on your shopping list. Not only does it strike a good balance between ride comfort and handling, but it also offers an excellent driving position and a wide range of engines, of which the 40 TFSIe plug-in hybrid is our favourite.

May sales 2489

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Pros

  • Sharp handling
  • Excellent driving position
  • Strong and frugal engines, including the excellent plug-in hybrid

Cons

  • Interior quality is good but could be better
  • Fiddly infotainment system
  • Audi's unimpressive reliability record
9

Mini hatchback

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£15,971

RRP from £16,605 to £35,050

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The Mini is a hugely desirable small car that has plenty of substance to match its style. We’d recommend Exclusive trim to make the most of the Mini’s biggest strength: its well-appointed interior. Meanwhile, the engine that suits the car best is the turbocharged 1.5-litre that you get with the Cooper model.

May sales 2561

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Pros

  • The classiest small car interior
  • Excellent infotainment system
  • Strong resale values

Cons

  • Ride is a bit firm
  • Not as safe as rivals
  • Only has two rear seats
8

Toyota Yaris

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£18,537

RRP from £19,915 to £24,010

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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 cramped.

May sales 2578

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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

Ford Fiesta

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£15,661

RRP from £16,645 to £27,080

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The Ford Fiesta was Britain's best-selling new car in 2020, but has fallen down the list so far in 2021. Still, here 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.

May sales 2794

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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
6

Kia Sportage

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£22,340

RRP from £23,810 to £34,710

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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, which is likely to hurt resale values of today's car.

May sales 2956

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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
5

Ford Puma

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£20,792

RRP from £22,045 to £29,460

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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 lower your fuel bills thanks to its clever mild hybrid technology.

May sales 3158

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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
4

Mercedes A-Class

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£21,676

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

May sales 3313

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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
3

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 sells in such big numbers.

May sales 3518

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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
2

Vauxhall Corsa

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£15,901

RRP from £16,815 to £33,895

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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).

May sales 3643

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Pros

  • Well equipped
  • Decent boot
  • Efficient engines

Cons

  • Laggy and confusing infotainment system
  • Below-par safety rating
  • Poor resale values
1

Volkswagen Golf

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£22,123

RRP from £23,360 to £39,980

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The latest Volkswagen Golf is comfortable, reasonably spacious and very quiet. Only its horribly fiddly climate controls and infotainment system let the side down.

May sales 4181

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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
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