Compact car market in the UK
Ford Focus: second in the rankings
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Felipe Munoz of JATO pickups
Felipe Munoz of JATO Dynamics

JATO analysis of the C sector

COMPACT cars have been traditionally one of Europe’s most popular choices. In the UK they used to be so popular that their registrations even topped the results by segments between 2005 and 2008, writes Felipe Munoz of JATO Dynamics .

In 2000, the C-segment market share hit the highest level of the last 17 years at 28% but soon this changed as the MPVs started to gain popularity and take  sales from the traditional segments.

However, by 2010 another sector’s boom created even more trouble for the C-segment in Britain.

Compact car market in the UK

The consumer fell in love with the few SUVs that were available in the market, but still the Compacts segment was double the size of the SUVs’.

But, as has happened in the rest of Europe, the C-segment is losing ground with its registrations accounting for just one-fifth – 20.5% – of total market in 2015, the lowest proportion since 2000.

During the first six months of this year, the demand continued to slow down, with total registrations down by 1.3% to 279,800 units, or 19.7% of the market. Meanwhile Compact SUVs posted an increase of 21% to 164,700 units. Read Overview of the SUV market in the UK by brand.

The results by car groups show that Volkswagen Group dominates by far. During the first half (H1) of 2016, the German car manufacturer registered 83,800 units of its six different models. That represents 30% of the segment.

However it was also the group that posted the highest segment share drop, following a 7.8% fall in the volume.

“The biggest threat to the traditional compact car comes not only from SUVs but from the premium offer too”

The main reason for this came from the challenging times facing its two top-sellers – Volkswagen Golf and Audi A3. In addition to the emissions issue, the Golf, which is the best-selling car in Europe, faces stronger and more modern competition as it waits for its first big facelift after its last launch in 2011.

Ford came second in the ranking by groups with its Focus down by 14%, mostly because of the arrival of the new generation Vauxhall Astra, its main rival. However, the new Astra also posted a decline (-5%).

They were not the only ones to post a negative half-year. Toyota was down by 3.3%, and Renault-Nissan, Volvo, Mazda and FCA all posted double-digit falls. In contrast to these falls, the German premiums BMW and Mercedes recorded significant growth of 36% and 39% respectively.

Compact car market in the UK

In fact they were the biggest winners of the period and allowed the premium category to gain share, jumping from 27.5% in H1 2015 to 31.1% in H1 2016.

Premium Compacts registrations grew by 11.6% whereas mainstreams fell by 6.3%. This all means that the biggest threat to the traditional compact car is not only coming from SUVs but from the premium offer too.

Another reason for the fall came from the diesel’s current difficult situation. The diesel compacts’ volume fell by 6% against a growth of 4.2% for petrol ones, and a 4.5% increase for EV/Hybrids.

The future of the segment is more likely to show stalled registrations during the next five years with its market share decreasing at lower rates.

Compact car market in the UK

Key choices in the compact car sector

Mainstream

Ford Focus

Compact car market in the UK
Ford Focus

The Focus’s combination of offering a keen drive, efficient engines and high level of standard equipment, has kept it on the top of the Compact Segment.

Available as a five-door hatch and estate, the Focus is offered with a choice of efficient EcoBoost petrol and TDCi diesel engines – with manual or Powershift automatic transmissions.

The current Focus is the third-generation car that was launched back in 2010, although it received a serious face-lift in 2015.

SEAT Leon

Compact car market in the UK
SEAT Leon

Much more than a Volkswagen Golf in Spanish designer suit, the SEAT Leon is great to drive and fine value for the money.

There’s a Leon for everyone, with the three-door Sports Coupe (SC), five-door hatch, Sporty Cupra models, the X-Perience five-door off-roader and last but not least, the five-door Sports Touring (ST) estate.

All are available with a fine choice of petrol and diesel engines, with manual and DSG automatic transmissions.

The current Leon was launched back in 2011 and is due a subtle face-lift in early 2017.

Skoda Octavia

Compact car market in the UK
Skoda Octavia

Sister car to the SEAT Leon and Volkswagen Golf, the Octavia sells on the fact it’s actually more spacious and practical than either of the other Volkswagen Group products.

The Octavia is available in estate and hatchback body styles, with the choice of four proven petrol and four diesel engines, mated to manual or DSG transmissions.

The current third-generation Octavia was launched back in 2012 and is due a serious face-lift just unveiled in early 2017.

Toyota Auris

Compact car market in the UK
Toyota Auris

The Auris is not just a re-bodied Corolla – the second-generation looks sharp, offers a refined drive, plus should prove cheap to run and be reliable!
The latest Auris is available in hatchback and the inappropriately-named Sports Tourer estate – with the choice of diesel, hybrid or petrol power. Plus auto and manual transmissions.

The second-generation Auris was launched in 2012, but received a mid-life face-lift last year.

Vauxhall Astra

Compact car market in the UK
Vauxhall Astra

The seventh-generation Astra puts Vauxhall back in the hunt for the best cars in the Compact Sector.

Why? Well, the latest Astra mixes impressive efficiency from the diesel and petrol engines, a comfortable engaging drive, has lots of clever tech and finally itis great value for money.

If that’s not enough to swing a buying decision, the latest Astra is available in five-door hatchback and estate bodies.

This Vauxhall is offered with an efficient range of diesel and petrol engines and finally there’s the choice of manual and automatic transmissions.

The latest Astra range was launched late last year, with the estate following earlier in 2016.

Volkswagen Golf

Compact car market in the UK
Volkswagen Golf

The default Compact Sector choice?

The current seventh-generation Volkswagen Golf is such a popular choice because it looks great, offers an impressively comfortable ride, has a well-made and high-quality interior and finally it’s very easy to drive.

Three and five-door hatches are available, along with a five-door estate. There’s also the choice of six-trims that can be fitted with a wide choice of petrol and diesel engine options.
These are mated to DSG auto and manual transmissions.

The seventh-generation Golf was launched in 2014, with some face-lift tweaks due this year and the all-new MK8 due in 2017.

Premium

Audi A3

Compact car market in the UK
Audi A3 Sportback

Audi basically created the premium hatch segment 20 years ago with the original first-generation A3 hatch.

The choice of A3 has never been greater, with three and five-door Sportback hatches, a four-door saloon, convertible, plus high-performance S and RS3 versions available.

There’s the choice of petrol, diesel and even plug-in hybrid power, with manual or automatic transmissions, with two or Quattro four-wheel drive.

We’re now in the third-generation of the A3, which launched back in 2012 and has been face-lifted this year.

BMW 1-Series

Compact car market in the UK
BMW 1-Series

The BMW 1-Series is unique in the compact segment, as it’s rear-drive.

Now in its second-generation, the 1-Series is available in three and five-door versions, with three and four-cylinder petrol and diesel power.

Sportiest version is the M135i, with its straight-six 3.0-litre power. This is the second-generation 1-Series and it was face-lifted in 2015.

BMW 2-Series Active Tourer

Compact car market in the UK
BMW 2-Series Active Tourer

The first Compact MPV from BMW, the 2-Series Active Tourer is also the first front drive BMW, being mechanically related to the latest F-Generation MINIs.

On top of the space and practicality, the 2-Series Active Tourer is anattractive choice, because the interior feels high quality and the familiar range of diesel and petrol engines are efficient.

Plus there’s the choice of two and X-Drive four-wheel drive. The BMW 2-Series Active Tourer was launched back in 2014.

Mercedes A-Class

Compact car market in the UK
Mercedes A-Class

After the mini-MPV first and second-generation A-Class, the current third-generation was a surprise, as it’s a conventional hatch.

The A-Class’s attractive hatchback looks, wide choice of petrol and diesel engines and large amount of standard tech are what sells this Mercedes to Compact Segment buyers.

The current A-Class was launched back in 2012, but received a subtle face-lift in 2015.

Mercedes CLA

Compact car market in the UK
Mercedes CLA

Basically a saloon version of the A-Class hatch, the Mercedes CLA is a serious rival for the Audi A3 saloon.

Like the A-Class hatch, the CLA sells on its looks, wide choice of petrol and diesel engines and the large amount of standard tech – but the CLA offers a more involving drive.The CLA was launched back in 2013.

Volvo V40

Compact car market in the UK
Volvo V40

Volvo’s classy alternative to the Volkswagen Golf, is a refined drive with the bonus of the expected safety kit from the Swedish manufacturer.

The V40 is a surprisingly keen drive too, the result of this Volvo’s platform being derived from the current Ford Focus.
Diesel choices are limited to three versions of the 2.0-litre diesel and petrol engine options are the T2, T3 and T5.

These engines are available with six-speed manual or eight-speed automatic transmissions.

The Volvo V40 was launched back in 2012, and received a significant face-lift this year.

New launches that will affect the market

Honda Civic

Compact car market in the UK
Honda Civic

Longer, wider, lighter and built on a new platform, the latest Civic will be offered at launch with a choice of two, all-new turbocharged 1.0 and 1.5-litre VTEC petrol engines, with manual or automatic transmissions.

With the new platform, Honda are also promising a more involving drive, although the wild Type R,is the place to look for ultimate Civic driving thrills.
Good news is a new Type R is on its way too! Inside, it’s more spacious than the outgoing car, with improved quality and dials replaced by a single TFT screen.

The new Civic will be launched in early 2017.

Hyundai i30

Compact car market in the UK
Hyundai i30

Built for everyone, Hyundai claim, the new i30 majors on quality safety and technology. Outside, with its bold C-pillar, the new Hyundai looks more European than before.

There’s also the latest evolution of the Hyundai family grille. Inside, we’re told there’s slightly more space than before, plus boot space is up to 395 litres.

The new i30 also has to be the safest Hyundai, with a suite of new technologies including Autonomous Emergency Braking, a front collision warning system, smart cruise control, Blind Spot Detection and even a Lane Keeping Assistance system.

For the UK market, there will be a choice of the new 140PS 1.4-litre and 1.0-litre 120PS GDi petrol turbo engines. Diesel will be taken care of by 110 and 136PS versions of the 1.6 CRD engine.

Production starts in December, with the UK launch scheduled for February 2017.

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