UK new car market recovers with strong July sales

After several months where almost nobody was shopping for a new car, July sales were up by more than 10% compared with 2019. So, what have people been buying?...


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What Car? team

The UK new car market bounced back strongly in July, following the severe downturn in sales caused by the coronavirus pandemic and the ensuing period of lockdown. In total, more than 174,800 new cars were sold, an increase of 11.3% on the same month in 2019. However, total sales for the year so far are still down by more than 40%.

Petrol-powered cars attracted the lion's share of the interest in July, and sales of both fully electric and plug-in hybrid cars surged, making up 9% of the total. By contrast, sales of diesel-powered cars were down by almost 26% compared with 2019.

The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, which represents the car industry in the UK, is forecasting that total new car sales in 2020 will be down by 30% compared with 2019's full-year figures – representing more than £20 billion in lost revenue for the industry. But it's also hopeful that strong offers will continue to drive sales over the coming months.

So, which cars managed to tempt buyers back into showrooms in July? Below we count down the 10 biggest sellers.

10

Ford Kuga

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£23,175

RRP from £24,615 to £38,455

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The latest Kuga is a fine large SUV, with pricing that makes it competitive against key rivals and driving manners that are capable of putting a big smile on your face. Go for the plug-in hybrid version and you'll enjoy a long electric-only driving range.

July sales 2686

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Pros

  • Plug-in hybrid (PHEV) has a long electric-only range
  • Competitively priced against rivals
  • PHEV offers low company car tax

Cons

  • Interior quality doesn't impress
  • Relatively small boot
  • Infotainment system isn't the slickest
9

Volkswagen Tiguan

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£23,823

RRP from £25,420 to £43,815

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The Tiguan has to compete with the class-leading Range Rover Evoque, plus other prestige-badged rivals from the likes of Audi, BMW and Mercedes. However, it makes a good case for itself with a spacious interior and a strong range of engines.

July sales 2880

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Pros

  • Handles well despite its size
  • Plenty of seating flexibility
  • Lots of standard equipment

Cons

  • Higher trims get pricey
  • CO2 emissions could be lower
  • Automatic gearbox is laggy
8

Mini hatchback

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£15,311

RRP from £16,200 to £37,345

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The Mini hatchback is a fairly consistent fixture on this list, and we like its classy interior, low running costs and strong resale values. It's not as good to drive as its reputation suggests, though, and there are more practical small cars.

July sales 2906

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Pros

  • Strong engines
  • Well-built interior
  • Great infotainment options

Cons

  • Not as much fun to drive as it should be
  • Notchy gearbox
  • Some rivals are more practical
7

Volkswagen Polo

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£15,898

RRP from £17,030 to £20,090

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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.

July sales 2932

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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
6

Nissan Qashqai

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£20,565

RRP from £20,565 to £36,295

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The Qashaqi is another model that's consistently among the best sellers in the UK. There's a range of efficient engines on offer, and the ride is comfortable if you stick with smaller wheels. However, lower trims do miss out on some important safety kit.

July sales 2971

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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

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

July sales 3922

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Pros

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

Cons

  • Not cheap
  • Restrictive and pricey option packs
  • A200 petrol engine sounds thrashy
4

Volkswagen Golf

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£22,633

RRP from £23,300 to £29,905

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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.

July sales 3936

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Pros

  • Exceedingly comfortable ride with adaptive suspension
  • Tidy handling
  • Strong and frugal 1.5 eTSI hybrid engine

Cons

  • Frustratingly fiddly infotainment system
  • Interior quality could be better
  • There are more spacious rivals
3

Ford Focus

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£21,057

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. Sharp handling and a range of peppy engines mean it's capable of putting a big smile on your face, while quiet cruising manners and roomy rear seats make it a sensible choice, too.

July sales 4981

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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
2

Ford Fiesta

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£15,738

RRP from £16,640 to £26,825

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The Fiesta is usually at the top of this list, but in July it was usurped. Don't think that makes the Fiesta any less recommendable, though; it's superb to drive and won't cost you much to run.

July sales 5421

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Pros

  • Brilliant to drive
  • Punchy Ecoboost engines
  • Good fuel economy

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 £34,160

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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).

July sales 5455

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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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