Figures released today reveal that 2016 was yet another record year for the new car market, with registrations up 2.3% compared to 2015. Over the year, some 2,692,786 cars were registered in the UK. But it’s not all good news as the organisation behind the stats, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), says we could be in for a rocky ride in 2017.
Still, if you are thinking about buying a new car this year, it might be wise to read one of our reviews before parting with our cash. These are our verdicts on Britain’s top 10 best-selling cars.
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Initials: AB (Andrew Brady), SC (Sean Carson), PB (Peter Burgess), JR (John Redfern), RA (Richard Aucock), TP (Tim Pitt).
10. Audi A3: 43,808 registrations
The AudI A3 remains the premium hatchback of choice, with more than 40,000 registrations in 2016. It helps, of course, that there’s no fewer than nine A3s to choose from, plus the introduction of a fire-cracking RS3 saloon in 2017.
Audi revamped its most popular model in 2016, giving it a new face and a pair of new TFSI petrol engines. Prices start from £19,365, but you’ll pay at least £40,670 for the S3 Cabriolet.
Audi A3: what we said
“It’s not the sort of car that necessarily appeals to the heart, but the A3 is a really well-polished contender in the popular premium C-segment. There are body styles to cater for everyone: three- and five-door hatches (the latter a ‘Sportback’ in Audi lingo), a cabriolet and even a saloon.
“Buy one (or, perhaps more likely, consider one as a company car), and you’ll be treated to the best interior in its class, a plethora of new tech to keep the iPhone generation happy, and sensible running costs. If you’re a keen driver, though, you might want to check out the BMW 1 Series.” AB
9. Mercedes-Benz C-Class: 44,181 registrations
It’s not hard to find evidence of the popularity of the Mercedes-Benz C-Class. Simply head along the M4 corridor during rush hour and every other car appears to be a C-Class. It’s the only compact executive car to appear in the top ten.
Prices start from £28,545 for the saloon, but you can also opt for an estate, cabriolet and coupe. Oh, and let’s not forget the bonkers AMG versions.
Mercedes-Benz C-Class: what we said
“The 2014 Mercedes-Benz C-Class firmly bats the ball back into BMW’s court. Appealing styling, a high quality interior, myriad clever systems and a much improved driving experience means the Merc gets closer to the 3 Series than ever.
“As we said, it can’t ultimately match it dynamically, but in most other areas the C-Class bests the BMW. With prices starting at £26,855, it’s around £300 more expensive than the equivalent 320i SE, but that’s really not that big a difference. Honours even on price, then.” SC
8. MINI: 48,328 registrations
Sixteen years since the launch of the first BMW MINI rolled off the production line at Plant Oxford, it remains as popular as ever. More than 48,000 registrations in 2016 represented a commendable rise from the 47,076 registrations in 2015.
Adding a five-door version to the range was a stroke of genius, while sun-seekers can order a new MINI Convertible. Back in February, we flew to Los Angeles to try it out. Life can be tough…
MINI Convertible: what we said
“Logic tends to pay only a minor part in buying a car like this. No one needs a convertible, but if they want one, it had better look good. The new MINI Convertible certainly hits that target. It may be indistinguishable to some from the earlier versions, but that’s no bad thing. The design is timeless.
“And there is lots more to entice buyers who want just a bit of logic in their decision. The additional space for passengers and luggage is very welcome, there’s plenty of pleasing touchy-feeliness about the MINI, and as always, it’s great fun to drive.” PB
7. Volkswagen Polo: 54,448 registrations
Objectively, the Volkswagen Polo is one of the best superminis you can buy. It might not be the most exciting car on the planet, but it’s favoured by those who put safety, practicality and dependability at the top of their list of priorities.
Surprisingly, it’s also cheaper than the ever-popular Ford Fiesta, with prices starting from just £11,635. Even the desirable Polo Match comes in at £13,070, while the Beats special edition could be yours for £14,020.
Volkswagen Polo GTI: what we said
Our very own John Redfern is a fan of the Volkswagen Polo, and he added a Flash Red GTI to his fleet in 2015. He said: “The Polo GTI has often (unfairly) had to live in the shadow of its bigger Golf brother, but I’ve always been a fan of the underdog.
“Plus, with the ever-increasing size of cars on our roads, the latest Polo GTI is virtually identical in dimensions to the hallowed Mk2 Golf GTI. Could that make for an interesting matchup?!” JR
6. Vauxhall Astra: 60,719 registrations
Once upon a time, the loudest noise you’d hear at a car rental check-in desk was the collective sigh of disappointment as the keys to a Vauxhall Astra were handed to the unlucky tourist. Today, all that has changed, as new Astra is properly good.
No surprise, then, that Vauxhall registered more Astras in 2016 than it did in 2015. LED Matrix headlights, a so-called ‘wellness’ seat and in-car wifi are just some of the features that would have been alien to Astra drivers of old.
Vauxhall Astra: what we said
“If you’re familiar with, and unimpressed by, today’s disappointingly old-Vauxhall Astra, prepare to be surprised: the new one is a huge improvement. It’s nicer to look at, nicer to drive and much nicer to sit in. With the extra infotainment tech Vauxhall’s launched on it, the new Astra can even claim sector-unique appeal.
“There’s still a bit of an image problem to overcome, but the new car’s considerable additional appeal should help enormously here. From being a meek also-ran, it’s now a much more competitive alternative to the Volkswagen Golf and Ford Focus – with the ability to edge them in some key areas that could sway buying decisions.” RA
5. Nissan Qashqai: 62,682 registrations
Britain’s most popular crossover is – thanks to the absence of the Vauxhall Mokka from this year’s top ten – the only one of its kind to appear on the list. It might not be the first crossover (sorry, Nissan), but in the space of a decade, the Qashqai has become the brand generic.
Subjectively, it’s no longer the best in class. We’d consider the likes of the SEAT Ateca, Hyundai Tucson and Kia Sportage before the Qashqai. Come next year, it’ll also have the new Mazda CX-5 to contend with.
Nissan Qashqai: what we said
“A Qashqai doesn’t make for an exciting purchase, but it is a really easy-to-live-with crossover that will tick all the boxes for many families. There are more interesting rivals out there, but the Qashqai is a quality all-round package.” AB
4. Volkswagen Golf: 69,492 registrations
A top four finish puts the Golf in the same position it achieved in 2015. But read behind the lines and you’ll discover that the 69,492 registrations recorded in 2016 is around 4,000 short of 2015’s total.
The Mk8 Volkswagen Golf can’t come soon enough. Meanwhile, we drove a rather tasty Golf GTI Clubsport S…
Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport S: what we said
“Realistically, we’d probably be swayed at the last minute by the Golf R and its passenger-carrying and greasy-road tackling abilities over a Clubsport S. Alternatively, if it’s a track car you’re after, £33,995 (before options) buys you a myriad of more focussed possibilities.
“But if you’re a hardcore Golf GTI fan – and can somehow get on the waiting list (good luck with that) – the Golf Clubsport S is arguably the ultimate fast Vee-dub. We’d be mighty jealous of your purchase.” AB
3. Ford Focus: 70,545 registrations
Wow. If you thought the Golf had a bad year, the Ford Focus has fallen well short of its 2015 total of 83,816 registrations.
On the plus side, we started the year by driving the new Focus RS, which set the tone for a vintage year of performance cars. Meanwhile, in the autumn, we drove the new Focus ST-Line…
Ford Focus ST-Line: what we said
“Everybody loves a fast Ford. And while the Focus ST-Line isn’t technically, um, fast, it looks the part. For many, that will be reason enough to buy one.
“Importantly, ST-Line trim doesn’t detract from the Focus’s traditional strengths: agile handling, decent comfort and practicality, and an attractive price-tag (especially after discount). If you’re in the market for a C-segment car, it should definitely be on your shortlist.” TP
2. Vauxhall Corsa: 77,110 registrations
In 2015, some 92,077 Corsas were registered in the UK, so Vauxhall’s most popular model fell well short in 2016. Frankly, it’s been a miserable year for the cars in the top four.
Which is a tad unfair on the Vauxhall Corsa, as the current version is streets ahead of its predecessors. The 1.0-litre turbocharged engine is a peach, while the interior is a league above the cabin you’ll find in the Fiesta. You’ll also discover that the supermini has some rather grown-up features.
Vauxhall Corsa: what we said
“The new Vauxhall Corsa is a very likeable car. We were worried at first that it’d be too similar to its predecessor, and certainly a bit more on the design front would have been welcome, but to drive it feels all-new.
“As such, we’d have no hesitation recommending a Corsa to anyone looking for a supermini – something we’d have struggled to say in the past. While it may still not quite have the edge over rivals like the Ford Fiesta and Volkswagen Polo, it’s closer than ever before.” AB
1. Ford Fiesta: 120,525 registrations
No prizes for guessing the best-selling car of 2016. It is, of course, the Infiniti QX30. No wait, not that, it’s the Ford Fiesta.
Numbers might be down compared to 2015, but with a new model waiting in the wings, Ford won’t be feeling too glum this January. The new Fiesta range will feature an upmarket Vignale trim level and a new Active crossover. In 2016, we drove the Fiesta ST200…
Ford Fiesta ST200: what we said
“We’ll make no bones about it – we’re huge fans of the Fiesta ST200. We nearly stopped off at a Ford dealer on the way home, that’s how much we enjoyed driving it.
“It’s the ultimate Fiesta ST, which itself is the ultimate affordable hot hatch (and arguably more fun than bigger hot hatches such as the Volkswagen Golf GTI). It looks great in Storm Grey, and you’ll be given a great deal of kudos turning up at fast Ford meets in one. You could almost look at it as an investment.” AB