The first official new car sales figures for 2024 have been released, and with them comes a milestone for the car market: the millionth electric vehicle (EV) was registered in the UK in January.
That’s quite an achievement but Mike Hawes, chief executive of the Society of Manufacturers and Traders, which released the figures, believes the right incentives for motorists could mean reaching two million EV sales in just two years.
However, over the 12 months of 2023, battery electric vehicles (bevs) accounted for just 16.5 per cent of all vehicle registrations, and so the motor industry and government have a great deal to do to boost sales if they want to achieve that goal. Particularly as, while bev sales continued to rise, their market share stagnated towards the end of last year.
This was put down to the removal of the plug-in car grant and other incentives for private buyers, which has seen expensive bevs fall out of favour; the economics simply don’t add up for some private motorists, particularly as public rapid charging costs have skyrocketed in recent years. For company car drivers, meanwhile, the economics are simple: you’d be silly not to pick an electric car, given the benefit-in-kind tax breaks offered.
“It’s taken just over 20 years to reach our million EV milestone – but with the right policies, we can double down on that success in just another two,” said Hawes. “Market growth is currently dependent on businesses and fleets. Government must therefore use the upcoming Budget to support private EV buyers, temporarily halving VAT to cut carbon, drive economic growth and help everyone make the switch.
“Manufacturers have been asked to supply the vehicles, we now ask government to help consumers buy the vehicles on which net zero depends.”
Most of the top 10 most popular models in the UK are not currently available in pure-electric form, and while fleet sales grew by 29.9 per cent, private retail sales fell 15.8 per cent year-on-year.
But what are the UK’s 10 best-selling passenger cars so far in 2024? Here’s the top 10 most popular models to date, based on the SMMT new car registration figures.
1. Kia Sportage: 4,239 registrations to date
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 topping the sales charts in January is quite an achievement in a tough and crowded sector of the market; it’s up against polished rivals such as its cousin, the Hyundai Tucson, as well as the VW T-Roc, Tesla Model Y, Nissan Qashqai and Ford Kuga.
2. Ford Puma: 4,201
The Ford Puma topped the sales charts for 2023 as a whole and it’s proving a major success in 2024, too. Perhaps no surprise as Ford’s entry-level crossover SUV 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 the feature seemed to be designed by “an actual person who leads an actual life”.
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 supermini has been discontinued while a new pure-electric Puma is on the way this year. Quite the changing of the guard.
3. Nissan Qashqai: 4,008
An all-time high for the Nissan Qashqai in terms of sales came in 2022, with it becoming the UK’s best-selling car, though its popularity continued through 2023 and it finished last year as the UK’s second most popular model.
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. SUVs and crossovers now dominate sales.
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. 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.
4. MG HS: 3,413
A visit to the top 10 best-selling cars is unusual for MG, though it could be a sign of things to come. Although a British brand, MG is owned by Chinese megacorp SAIC, and many can see Chinese companies dominating global vehicle production and sales over the coming years.
The MG HS is the brand’s rival to the Nissan Qashqai, Kia Sportage, Hyundai Tucson, Ford Kuga and the many others in the crowded mid-sized crossover segment, though with prices starting at £23,995 it’s able to undercut its competitors.
The price reflects its refinement, though, and reviews show the cost savings are apparent inside, in its driving manners and under the bonnet, with lacklustre 1.5-litre petrol and plug-in hybrid options.
Still, it’s a smart-looking thing, thanks to a design refresh in 2023, and you can’t argue with its practicality, seven-year warranty or pricetag.
5. BMW 1 Series: 3,204
The BMW 1 Series, along with the Mini Hatch, Audi A3 and Mercedes A-class, are all strong sellers these days, reflecting Brits’ penchant for premium hatchbacks over more affordable options… no doubt facilitated by PCP finance deals.
For the BMW to outsell its rivals in January does buck the usual trend, though there will be deals out there with a facelift due this year. Plus it’s easy to see why the current model is popular: a classy interior, excellent driving feel and increased interior space over older versions.
When it was launched in 2019, standard 1 Series became front-wheel drive rather than the traditional rear-wheel drive, which upset purists, but most buyers won’t notice or care, and the benefits in terms of packaging and grip are clear.
There’s something for everyone, too, from the well equipped entry-level 118i SE with its efficient 136bhp petrol engine to the hot M135i X-Drive, which gains four-wheel drive and a 306bhp powerplant.
6. Mini Hatch: 3,079
There’s a lot of appeal in the Mini — the UK’s seventh 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”.
This year an all-new model will continue that trend but for now, buyers will find plenty of choice in the 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.
- Electric Mini production could continue in Oxford after £500m investment and £75m taxpayer contribution
7. Audi A3: 2,648
The Audi 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, with a higher price point (starting at £28,650).
For that reason it’s interesting that it has been outselling both Golf and Leon, again showing we Brits like an upmarket brand, but in some ways the A3 is more versatile than either. 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 seem to be snapping up the dinosaur-burner versions while they can.
8. Volkswagen Golf: 2,456
You’d have thought the VW Golf would be doing rather better than it has been since Ford discontinued the Focus, especially against more expensive rivals such as the Audi A3 and BMW 1 Series, but the current eighth generation version hasn’t been the darling of the motoring press. Many highlight a frustrating touchscreen infotainment system.
Look beyond that, though, and the Golf still has many redeeming features. The ride quality is excellent and the refinement top notch. The handling is pleasing, too, and it comes in many flavours including the GTI, GTI Clubsport, GTE plug-in hybrid, GTD and fire-breathing four-wheel drive Golf R.
A refreshed Golf due this year, labelled Mk8.5, addresses many of the tech criticisms and offers sharper looks, along with a plug-hybrid capable of 62 miles on electric power. The buzz suggests it will win back many hearts and minds. Before that time, though, VW dealers will be offering tempting deals on exisiting stock.
9. Nissan Juke: 2,421
We don’t often see the Juke — the Qashqai’s smaller sibling — in the top 10, so Nissan will be delighted that it had two of the 10 best-selling cars in 2023.
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 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, appeals to younger drivers, has plenty of tech and is competitively priced, starting at under £21,000, which makes the compact crossover an attractive proposition for buyers of all ages.
10. Hyundai Tucson: 2,373
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.
- After reading about the most popular cars in the UK in 2024, you might be interested to look back at the best-selling cars of 2023.
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