October new car sales revealed: who were the winners and losers?

Total registrations were down compared with the same month last year, but electric cars sales continued to boom and the UK's most popular car was a big surprise...


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What Car? team

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Fewer new cars were sold in the UK in October than in the same month in 2019, freshly released figures have revealed, although the drop had more to do with supply issues and regional lockdowns than a lack of demand.

In total, 140,945 new cars were registered – 1.6% down on October 2019's figures – according to industry body The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT). Of the cars that did leave showrooms, almost half (49.5%) were petrol, while sales of diesels accounted for just 14.9% of the market and were down almost 40% compared with last year.

By contrast, sales of hybrid, plug-in hybrid and electric cars continued to boom, with a combined 28,148 sales in October 2020 compared with 14,231 in October 2019. Such models have so far accounted for 16% of new car sales in 2020.

Mercedes EQC charging

According to the SMMT, the so-called 'firebreak' lockdown in Wales, which came into force on 23 October, lead to the principality recording 25.5% fewer new car registrations by the end of the month than it would otherwise have done, with this accounting for more than half of the nationwide decline. Sales to businesses also drove part of the decline, with around 2500 fewer vehicles making their way onto company fleets than might otherwise be expected.

However, much of this month's fall can actually be attributed to a bottleneck in the supply chain, with deliveries of new cars pushed back until later in the year due to factories still operating at reduced capacity in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Supporting this theory is the fact that private registrations were actually up by 0.4% in October.

Indeed, recent What Car? research has revealed that almost one-in-five in-market buyers are prepared to make a purchase within the next four weeks, despite England being in lockdown. Additionally, those who do buy a prepared to wait for their cars, with more than a quarter of buyers saying they would be happy to wait for up to a month to collect the keys to their new car.

But what about the cars that did leave showrooms in October? Below we count down the month's top 10 sellers.

10

Audi A3

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£22,067

RRP from £23,300 to £39,405

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If you're in the market for a family hatchback with a premium badge on its bonnet, then you could do a lot worse than the latest Audi A3. It's good to drive, with sharp handling and a punchy range of engines, of which the 1.5-litre petrol in the 35 TFSI model is our favourite. Add in an excellent driving position and reasonable space for the family, and it's easy to recommend.

October sales 2523

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Pros

  • Sharp handling
  • Excellent driving position
  • Punchy petrol 35 TFSI petrol engine

Cons

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

BMW 1 Series

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£23,352

RRP from £24,965 to £40,140

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Like the Audi A3 above, the 1 Series is a premium family hatchback, and it gets the same four-star rating as the Audi on our road test. It's a decent all-rounder, blending driver appeal with decent ride comfort, but it also has one of the nicest interiors of any family hatchback, plus a brilliant infotainment system.

October sales 2606

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Pros

  • Superb build quality
  • Sporty handling
  • Class-leading infotainment system

Cons

  • Mercedes A-Class is safer
  • SE trim not that well equipped
  • Road noise at speed
8

Ford Focus

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£20,563

RRP from £22,210 to £34,710

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If you're looking for a family hatchback that's also great to drive, the Focus should be on your shortlist. With sharp handling and a range of peppy engines, it's capable of putting a big smile on your face, while its quiet cruising manners and roomy rear seats make it a sensible choice, too.

October sales 2823

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Pros

  • Great handling
  • Quiet at speed
  • Roomy rear seats

Cons

  • Mediocre performance
  • Low-rent interior
  • Octavia has a much bigger boot
7

Mini hatchback

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£15,500

RRP from £16,400 to £34,100

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The Mini hatchback is an enduring icon in the small car market, and marries cutesy looks with an engaging drive. Our recommended 1.5-litre petrol engine makes for peppy performance around town, while the number of optional packs on offer gives owners plenty of scope for personalisation.

October sales 3100

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Pros

  • Fun to drive
  • Low running costs
  • Strong resale values

Cons

  • Ride is a bit firm
  • Not as safe as rivals
  • Only has two rear seats
6

Volvo XC40

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£25,420

RRP from £25,420 to £59,985

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Volvo's Family SUV is a former What Car? Car of the Year and remains one of the very best options in its class. It's good to drive, spacious inside for both people and luggage, and has a well-built interior.

October sales 3548

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Pros

  • Stylish and high-quality interior
  • Comfortable ride on most versions
  • Comprehensive safety kit

Cons

  • Lacks the rear seat flexibility of some rivals
  • Fiddly infotainment system
  • Road noise on the motorway
5

Ford Puma

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£20,186

RRP from £21,630 to £29,445

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The Puma isn't just the best small SUV you can buy in 2020, it's the best car full stop. Yes, the Puma is our Car of the Year, thanks to an alluring mix of practicality and low running costs, combined with an engaging driving style.

October sales 3609

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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

Volkswagen Golf

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£21,953

RRP from £23,300 to £39,270

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The arrival of a new Volkswagen Golf is always big news, and comes with big expectations, too. Fortunately, this latest version remains highly recommendable, with a comfortable ride, tidy handling and a strong range of engines.

October sales 3831

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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
3

Ford Fiesta

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£15,411

RRP from £16,640 to £27,075

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Having lead the sales charts for a number of months, the Fiesta hatchback slumped to third place in October, but don't think that makes it any less recommendable – it's superb to drive and won't cost you much to run.

October sales 3845

 

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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
2

Vauxhall Corsa

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£15,548

RRP from £16,440 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 Corsa: it's cheap to run, well equipped and you can choose from a wide variety of power options (including a fully electric version).

October sales 3957

 

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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

Mercedes A-Class

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£21,133

RRP from £23,755 to £56,595

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The 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 New Car Buying service

October sales 4149

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Pros

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

Cons

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