Record low for September new car sales

September's new car registrations were the lowest this century, but this had more to do with limited supply than a lack of demand...


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What Car? team

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The number of new cars sold in the UK this September was the smallest since the twice-yearly number plate change was introduced in 1999, freshly released figures show, although there were mitigating circumstances.

In total, 328,041 new cars were registered – 4.4% down on the same month in 2019 – according to industry body The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders. However, this was largely due to supply issues caused by factories still operating at reduced capacity in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, rather than a lack of consumer demand.

Indeed, mid-month several retailers were reporting that their sales were up 20% year on year, with many deliveries having to be pushed back due to the supply issues. These sales won't be counted until that bottleneck has been cleared.

It's also worth noting that even with the problems, the year-on-year percentage fall is comparable with the numbers before the coronavirus pandemic, although 2020 has seen a big shift in the types of cars people are buying.

Diesel cars performed particularly badly last month, with sales of such models down by more than 38% compared with September 2019, while sales of petrol-powered cars were also down by more than a fifth year on year.

On the other hand, sales of electric and plug-in hybrid cars were up by 184% and 139% respectively, meaning electrified cars accounted for 18.5% of the total market combined; last year it was just 8.6%.

Was that enough for any of them to make the best sellers' list? Below we take a look at September's 10 most popular cars.

10

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.

September sales 5625

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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
9

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.

September sales 5653

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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
8

Mini hatchback

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£15,311

RRP from £16,200 to £37,345

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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.

September sales 6213

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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
7

Ford Puma

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£20,186

RRP from £21,630 to £26,940

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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.

September sales 6341

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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
6

Nissan Qashqai

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£22,036

RRP from £23,550 to £30,070

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It may be getting a little long in the tooth compared with other family SUVs, but there's no denying that the Qashqai remains an alluring option. It's quiet and comfortable on long journeys, while regular discounts mean that it's well priced against an ever-expanding field of rivals.

September sales 6572

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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
5

Volkswagen Golf

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£22,122

RRP from £23,300 to £35,960

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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.

September sales 6788

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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
4

Volkswagen Polo

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£16,068

RRP from £17,125 to £21,995

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The Polo is our favourite small car because it offers so much that you'd normally expect to find only on larger, more expensive models. As well as a spacious, high-quality interior, the Polo is very quiet and comfortable. It's a great choice.

September sales 7417

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Pros

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

Cons

  • Seat Ibiza is more fun to drive
  • Noisy diesel
  • Gutless entry-level petrol
3

Mercedes A-Class

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£20,833

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

September sales 8085

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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
2

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 second place in September, but don't think that makes it any less recommendable – it's superb to drive and won't cost you much to run.

September sales 9545

 

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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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£15,640

RRP from £16,415 to £22,785

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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).

September sales 10,553

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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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