Perusing the list of the best-selling cars in the UK is always an interesting starting point when looking for your next new car. Buying a car that is popular with the rest of the motoring public means that you should have little trouble selling it on down the line and there should also be plenty of service centres around to make maintenance and servicing less of a hassle.
What the list doesn’t tell you though is which models within each range to go for, knowing that the Vauxhall Corsa is a very popular car on sale in the UK is of little help if you buy a model that does not highlight its virtues.
To avoid being saddled with a poverty-spec model or an over-priced depreciation magnet we have taken an in-depth look at the top 10 most popular cars in the first quarter of 2018 and assessed which trim combinations are the ones to go for.
Cherry picking the peaches from the lemons – the UK’s top buys
Mercedes C-Class No. 10
Our top ten list starts with the C-Class, a strong showing for a model that is soon to be replaced by an all-new model around mid-year.
Strong fleet sales are part of the impressive sales results but there is no denying that the current model is a very competent all-rounder and savvy buyers will know that runout models come with fewer issues and bigger discounts.
Mercedes C-Class 200 SE
We have decided to opt out of going for the efficient diesel to avoid falling foul of any new anti-diesel laws that might be implemented by an over-zealous government. The C350e hybrid has its merits but in the real world the additional costs will be near impossible to recoup unless your commute falls within a very specific set of parameters.
The AMG models are impressive but not quite class-leading, so our choice is the C200 SE saloon. Its 184-bhp turbocharged engine is smooth and efficient, especially when paired with the 9-speed automatic transmission and it comes well equipped too. Prices start at around £32,000 and you can also secure some great finance deals.
Vauxhall Mokka X . No. 9
The Mokka X is a bit of a strange top-ten contender, it offers nothing particularly unique or class-leading in its segment yet its sales figures have been unusually strong for long enough to prove that it wasn’t just a temporary anomaly.
It does have decent standard equipment levels and a nice interior but you have to be careful not to spend too much on unnecessary extras.
Vauxhall Mokka X Design Nav 1.4T
The Mokka X is a great city-cruiser but it is not an engaging driving tool so there is little point in going for the most powerful engine or spending extra on a 4×4 drivetrain that you won’t ever use.
We suggest the punchy 140-bhp 1.4-litre turbocharged engine which offers 42.8mpg in the combined cycle. In this instance the manual gearbox is the more efficient and saves you over a £1,000 too. The £20,000 base Design Nav trim comes with built-in navigation and comes with enough basic equipment to be just fine for the school run.
If you prefer a few more creature comforts then the Active trim is a further £2,000 but comes without the Nav system.
MINI No. 8
The new Mini has been popular in the UK for almost as long as it has been on sale, there is an undeniable appeal to what the package offers and you can personalise your car to your individual tastes.
It doesn’t come cheap though and interior space is tight but they sure are a lot of fun and perfect for crowded city streets too.
MINI Cooper S
The Mini range is all about options, body styles range from 3 and 5-door hatches to the estate-style Clubman and crossover Countryman. There is also a four-seater convertible so pick the one that suits your requirements and spec it with the mid-level 192-bph 2.0-litre turbo engine.
It provides useable performance with decent economy (45.6mpg combined) and is most fun in manual guise. Stay calm when ticking options and stick to a few extras like leather seats, navigation and perhaps a funky exterior colour. Do that and you should spend around £25,000 on one of the hatchbacks or a bit more if you go for the other body styles.
Mercedes A-Class No. 7
The A-Class is a big step up from the previous ungainly model but it too is due for imminent replacement, which makes its 8th position in overall sales rather impressive.
As with the C-Class, there are some lucrative finance offers to be taken advantage of and a lot of model lines to choose from.
Mercedes A-Class A220d AMG
While the A45 AMG is as mental as ever, there are newer and more rounded offerings to be had at its price point so we think that the A220d AMG line is the best of the current offerings.
Yes, it’s a diesel but it meets all the latest emissions standards so should not fall under any punitive diesel laws and Mercedes currently offer a Personal Contract Plan on the 7-speed DCT transmission models. The A180 Sport Edition in manual guise also comes with an attractive finance offer if petrol power is more your thing.
Ford Kuga No. 6
The Kuga has grown in size over the years and now offers decent interior space while retaining most of its small-car driving characteristics.
It is a popular alternative to other mid-range SUVs and comes with a large range of engines and trims to suit most needs.
Ford Kuga Titanium 1.5T
The Vignale trim may be packed with some class-leading luxury and convenience features but at £31,840 it is up against some premium-badged crossovers that make it a very hard sell.
Lower down, the Titanium trim is much better value, starting at £26,150 it comes with decent kit as standard. The 150-bhp 1.5-litre EcoBoost Turbo engine is a good option and sticking to the FWD drivetrain saves you money and fuel.
Vauxhall Corsa No. 5
Another Vauxhall product that is not necessarily class-leading but clearly offers a package that appeals to motorists.
The Corsa has never struggled in the sales charts and Vauxhall wants to make sure that you do not look elsewhere by offering a bewildering array engine and trim choices. Deals too change depending on the specific trim so look closely at the fine print before making your choice.
Vauxhall Corsa SE 1.4i
The Corsa is enjoyable to drive and cheap to run, even the base engine is nippy so you don’t need to spend too much on extras here. There is a £2,300 premium for the 5-door body style which can be better spent elsewhere if you don’t need the rear doors.
Each trim offers a different combination of engines and transmissions but we found the 100-bhp turbocharged 1.4-litre motor combined with a manual gearbox in SE trim to be one of the more rounded offerings. In that configuration prices are around £15,240 for the 3-door variant.
Ford Focus No. 4
The Focus has been the driver’s choice in this category for decades, refinement levels are not up there with the class leaders though but the current range is well-priced and comes with decent equipment levels too.
This particular model has been around for some years now and its replacement is all but here so look out for finance deals on the outgoing stock.
Ford Focus Titanium 1.0T
There are a lot of variations to choose from but it is wisest to stick to the Titanium trim here as it offers arguably the best value in the range at this point in its life. The 125-bph 1.0-litre turbo engine is a great fit, offering just enough real-world performance allied with good economy figures.
The premium navigation and rear-view camera are well-priced extras and thus equipped you can still slip under £20,000 once Ford’s promotional incentives are taken into account. An estate body style adds further practicality too.
Nissan Qashqai No. 3
The Qashqai is the most popular SUV currently on sale in the UK. It sits in third place overall and once again its popularity proves that customers value all-round ability and good fuel economy highly.
The Qashqai received a facelift last year to ward of some strong new competitors and it seems to have done the trick. It may not be the best to drive but few shoppers are interested in handling dynamics when sitting in afternoon traffic.
Nissan Qashqai Visia or N-Connecta
When it comes to this SUV, either go for the base Visia which at £19,300 comes with the 115-bhp petrol engine and FWD or the mid-range N-Connecta which adds touchscreen navigation and some advanced safety features.
When fitted with the frugal 130-bhp diesel motor (64.2 combined mpg) the N-Connecta retails for £26,850, this trim should suit those planning to do longer cross-country trips. AWD is a bit pointless here so no need to spend the extra.
Volkswagen Golf No. 2
The Golf is one of the most successful model ranges of all time, it tends to do rather well in the UK. Despite the dieselgate fiasco, customer confidence remains unshaken and both petrol and diesel models are selling strongly.
Volkswagen Golf GT 1.5T
The GTI will always be the go-to choice for those looking for fuss-free family-friendly performance but at £30,000 the entry point is no longer quite so affordable.
That is why we recommend the GT trim instead, fitted with the 150-bhp 1.5-litre TSI engine it offers plenty of punch in city driving and with a 6-speed manual gearbox offers a combined 55.4mpg. Prices start at £24,570 in this spec. The diesel variants are even more economical but cost a little more.
Ford Fiesta No. 1
Ford Fiesta No. 1
The king of the hill when it comes to sales numbers is no other than the humble Ford Fiesta, its combined registration of 40,619 until the end of April almost equal the second and third place totals combined.
Not much was wrong with the outgoing model and the new Fiesta that was released in 2017 only improved on the formula.
Ford Fiesta Titanium 1.0T
Prices have risen somewhat with the new Fiesta but then so has the interior quality and refinement. The range is vast but the sweet spot can be found in the Titanium trim.
It is well-equipped and lower spec levels don’t get access to the sweet 125-bhp 1.0-litre turbocharged engine. Combined with a manual transmission this combination offer fun driving dynamics, strong performance and decent economy.
Add the driver assist package (£200) and you will still slide in under £18,000. The five-door body style adds about £700 to the total price.