The latest vehicle registration figures for 2023 have been released and they show which models have been the top 10 most popular cars in the UK for the first 11 months of the year.
Car makers have had a torrid time in recent years, as they grappled with the cost-of-living crisis on top of parts supply issues, including the shortage of semiconductors, but new car registrations have seen a comeback and November marked a record 16th consecutive month of year-on-year sales growth in the UK. In fact, the official figures suggest sales in November were just 0.1 per cent below pre-pandemic 2019.
Some 156,525 new cars were registered last month, according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT). Businesses continue to drive the sales figures, with corporate sales up by more than a quarter year-on-year and representing 59 per cent of the market, with private sales down slightly making up the remainder of UK registrations.
Of course, all eyes are on sales figures for pure-electric cars (also known as “battery-electric vehicles”, or Bevs). After enjoying a 42nd consecutive month of growth in October, sales were down by more than 17 per cent in November, although that’s partly because November 2022 was such a bumper month for Bevs. And the SMMT noted that the slight reduction in private car sales meant more than three-quarters of new Bevs (77.4 per cent) were taken on by businesses. Nevertheless, Bev sales remain up by more than a quarter year-on-year over the first 11 months of 2023.
The slight reduction in battery-electric car sales may have something to do with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s decision to push back the ban on sales of new petrol and diesel cars from 2030 to 2035. Although fully electric vehicles were only ever expected to be mandatory from 2035 – the government’s decision simply means conventional petrol and diesel car sales will be allowed to carry on alongside hybrids until 2035 – many experts said it will have caused private motorists to delay decisions to make the switch to electric cars.
Following its calls last month to invest in electric vehicle incentives, the SMMT has called on the government to spend money on the UK’s charging infrastructure and suggests reducing the VAT rate on Bevs from 20 per cent to five per cent, bringing it in line with home charging.
The industry body also highlighted the “urgent need to delay” the tougher new UK-EU rules of origin, which come into force on January 1, 2024. The SMMT says failure to postpone the rules would see electric vehicles incur tariffs due to batteries built outside the region, and that would increase prices for customers both in the UK and Europe. Both car makers and governments on both sides have called for a three-year extension to the current rules, which the SMMT says would “support consumer choice and affordability.”
“Britain’s new car market continues to recover, fuelled by fleets investing in the latest and greenest new vehicles,” said SMMT chief executive Mike Hawes. “With car makers gearing up to meet their responsibilities under new market legislation, and COP28 currently underway, now is the time to take sensible steps that will multiply that economic growth and minimise carbon emissions.
“Private Bev buyers need incentives in line with those that have so successfully driven business uptake – and workable trade rules that promote rather than penalise the transition.”
The best-selling cars of 2023
But what are the most popular car models of 2023 so far? Here is the official list of top 10 best-selling vehicles in the UK, according to SMMT new car registration figures.
1. Ford Puma: 46,434 registrations to date
It was controversial when Ford revived the Puma name — previously associated with a niche but beloved, sporty 1990s coupé — as a Fiesta-based crossover SUV, but its sales success is evidence the tactic paid off. It helps that this is one of the best-handling and most practical cars in its class.
In his review of the Puma, Jeremy Clarkson said he loved the washable boot (known as the “megabox”) and noted that it seemed to be designed by “an actual person who leads an actual life”.
In an era of parts supply pressures, the Puma’s positive reception by critics and public alike helped convince Ford of Europe to put all its resources into SUVs and electrified cars; as a result the Fiesta has been discontinued while a new pure-electric Puma is on the way this year. Quite the changing of the guard, but as it was the best-selling car of all in April, May, July, August, October, and November putting it at the top of the chart for the year to date, perhaps Ford has made the right call.
2. Nissan Qashqai: 39,068
Last year marked an all-time high for the Nissan Qashqai in terms of sales with it becoming the UK’s best-selling car overall, and the compact SUV ended the first quarter of 2023 at the top of the charts, too. It dropped to fourth before a bumper September resulted in it surging back up to second best seller for the year to date.
The Qashqai helped popularise the crossover genre, having a bigger impact on the types of cars we drive than almost any other car launched this century. Cars from its segment now dominate sales — the VW T-Roc, Tesla Model Y, Kia Sportage, Ford Kuga and Hyundai Tucson are all rivals.
The all-new Qashqai launched in 2021 with a hybrid “e-Power” variant, clever technology, a fresher design and more upmarket interior, and we liked it enough to name it our Small SUV / Crossover of the Year 2021. No doubt its sales success has quite a lot to do with our award; you’re welcome, Nissan.
But there’s no denying that whether buying new or used, the Qashqai is a decent and able family car, with good fuel economy, a smart design and lots of tech at an affordable price. Plus it’s built in Sunderland.
3. Vauxhall Corsa: 37,826
In May the Corsa was knocked off the number one spot after it was outsold by the Ford Puma for the second month in a row, and the Puma is now gaining some clear air ahead at the top of the chart. Then a great September for the Qashqai saw the Corsa drop to third in the sales charts. But it outsold the Qashqai again in October, and the fact that it is doing so well against higher-riding crossovers is impressive. It suggests that traditional superminis aren’t dead quite yet.
The Corsa will be benefitting from Ford discontinuing its hugely popular Fiesta, of course, as the Blue Oval’s supermini was its chief rival. Renault believes it will capitalise on Ford’s decision with its new hybrid Clio, too.
Vauxhall’s model was relaunched in 2019 with handsome looks and a range of power choices under the bonnet, including a pure-electric variant packing a competitive 208-mile range. An updated version of all variants is not on sale, and the electric model has range boosted to 255 miles per charge. It’s not cheap, but the Corsa’s electrification could mean that it is a strong seller for a few years more yet.
4. Kia Sportage: 34,620
The Kia Sportage family SUV was relaunched in 2022, getting a new chassis and engine line-up along with more modern styling. The interior quality is excellent and the combined 12.3in digital displays give the interior a technologically-advanced look.
At the top of the Sportage range is a plug-in hybrid model developing 261bhp through its combination of 1.6-litre petrol engine and electric motor, with energy fed from a battery with a 13.8kWh capacity. A non-plug-in hybrid is available on this generation Sportage, with the same 1.6-litre petrol engine on its own producing 226bhp. There are other mild-hybrid petrol models as well as a diesel, so most buyers will be catered for whatever their preference.
The Sportage is performing extremely well in a tough and crowded sector of the market, battling it out with rivals such as its cousin, the Hyundai Tucson, as well as the VW T-Roc, Tesla Model Y, Nissan Qashqai and Ford Kuga.
5. Hyundai Tucson: 32,301
The Tucson offers fierce competition for sibling company Kia’s Sportage, as well as the Nissan Qashqai. The fact that all three are on this list just goes to show the strength of the family SUV market and the cars in question.
The old Tucson was great but the new model stepped things up a gear with a really smart exterior design, including ‘hidden’ headlights, and a cool new cabin complete with a big touchscreen and digital instrument display. But the Tucson isn’t just more modern; it’s better to drive, too.
Like the Sportage with which the Tucson shares so much, there’s a wide range of powertrain options, including petrol, diesel, hybrid and plug-in hybrid, all of which are smooth, quiet and efficient.
6. Tesla Model Y: 31,083
The nature of Tesla’s sales and delivery model, which does away with traditional car dealers in favour of online purchasing and a direct-to-customer approach, means that deliveries come in bursts rather than a trickle.
March saw a new boatload of the cars arrive into the UK from factories abroad, propelling the Model Y crossover straight to the top of the sales charts for the month, then the following months were quieter so it dropped down the order. However, August was another big one for the electric crossover and come the end of the year it could end up even higher, as the order book is extremely strong and more batches of vehicles will arrive.
The Model Y builds on the Model 3’s strengths (they share around 95 per cent of their components), adding extra space and crossover styling. Two versions are available, depending on the buyer’s priorities — Long Range (315 miles) and Performance, both with all-wheel drive.
When Driving.co.uk tested the Model Y, we found it to be a massively spacious and competent car with loads to recommend, not least Tesla’s enviable Supercharger network. One big downside, though, was the rather poor ride quality, with bumps and jolts echoing through the vast cabin making it uncomfortable and noisy on rough roads.
7. Mini Hatch: 29,777
There’s a lot of appeal in the Mini — the UK’s third best-selling car last year — thanks to its premium feel, sporty handling and retro styling. Like a Porsche 911, the design has evolved subtly since its launch so that it still looks good more than 20 years on from the first “New Mini”, and next year an all-new model will continue that trend.
Buyers will find plenty of choice in the current Mini Hatch range from the sensible and affordable Mini One right up to the hooligan John Cooper Works model, as well as a pure-electric version. There’s also the choice of three- or five-door bodystyles.
The Mini is still among the best of British (it’s built in Oxford) and a keen rival for German cars such as the Audi A1 and Volkswagen Polo. The new version will get what looks like a really cool interior with a clever circular touchscreen display, but more importantly the electric model will go further per charge. The Mini’s future seems assured.
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8. Nissan Juke: 29,272
We don’t often see the Juke — the Qashqai’s smaller sibling — in the top 10 so Nissan will be delighted that it has two of the best-selling cars in the UK. That’s largely thanks to a bumper month of sales for the model in March, because the funky SUV didn’t even make the top 10 in October or November.
The Juke has been a bit of a Marmite car in the past but the second generation model is an objectively more attractive proposition and the introduction of a hybrid version last year has clearly caught the eye of many new car buyers who value fuel economy.
Like the Qashqai, the Juke is built in Sunderland and so the “buy local” effect may be a factor in its popularity. But the Juke drives well, has plenty of tech and is competitively priced, starting at under £21,000, which makes the compact crossover an attractive proposition for buyers.
9. Vauxhall Mokka: 28,390
A perennial favourite with UK customers, the Mokka is Vauxhall’s answer to the Ford Puma and the Nissan Juke. Although it’s not quite the best car in its class, the combination of fresh, modern styling and compact dimensions, as well as the comforting familiarity of the Vauxhall badge, have kept the little SUV high in the sales charts.
Also in the Vauxhall’s favour is the number of different trim levels and engine options available. As well as conventional petrol powertrains — diesels have been discontinued — the Mokka is also offered in pure-electric Mokka-e form, which will appeal to those seeking a company car or simply wanting a runabout with minimal running costs and zero exhaust emissions.
These days, the Mokka is taking advantage of the Vauxhall brand’s ownership by Stellantis, sharing technology with the Peugeot 2008 and other cars in the Peugeot, Citroën, Jeep and Fiat ranges. That includes the 1.2-litre petrol engines, which are smooth and eager, and the chassis tech that has helped to make this the best Mokka yet.
10. Audi A3: 28,178
In October, the Audi A3 knocked the Fiesta out of the top 10 best sellers for the year to date, after Ford ended production of its supermini. Ford’s loss is Audi’s gain, it seems, with the German hatchback remaining among the top sellers in November.
The A3 has been around since 1996 and is now in its fourth generation. It’s built on the same underpinnings as — and is a similar size to — the VW Golf and Seat Leon, but considered a more upmarket alternative to both Volkswagen Group stablemates.
It’s also potentially more versatile. You can pick up an A3 in hatchback or saloon forms, and in sporty or rip-snorting guises as the S3 and RS 3. Since 2021 there’s been a plug-in hybrid version, too.
The recent facelifted versions are likely to be the last of the petrol-powered A3s, as Audi is set to launch its final fossil-fuelled cars in Europe in 2025, so expect the fifth gen A3 to be pure electric. Buyers seems to be snapping up the dinosaur-burner versions while they can.
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