When it comes to cars, France may be best known for its inexpensive, easy-to-use creations, but its back catalog is also full of elegant design and genuine innovation. The best French classic cars are brimming with zest for life and that’s really what a modern classic car is all about.
Admittedly, some of these French fantasies may have sold better than others, but that only adds to their rarity – a key attribute in achieving classic car status. It is often only after the passage of time that truly bold and innovative designs are appreciated.
What is certain is that none of these cars are boring and whatever you choose there is a real chance to get an appreciative and useful modern classic with a distinctive French flavor.
- Price range: £42,000-£75,000
- Our choice: A110 Pure
- Engine: 1.8-litre 4cyl turbo, 249 hp
- years produced: 2018-present
An instant classic the moment the covers were pulled off, the A110 combines a stunning retro look with massive driver appeal. The combination of compact dimensions, low weight and punchy turbocharged engines of the French mid-engine machine, inspired by the original from the 1960s, makes every trip an event to enjoy.
The car’s surprisingly plush suspension provides sharp and engaging handling, but also allows the Alpine to drive with the comfort of an executive sedan.
Flagship S models have 288 horsepower, but the standard 249 horsepower version offers the best combination of dynamic flair and value – although no A110 comes cheap.
Citroen BX GTi
- Price range: £3,000-£8,000
- Our choice: BX GTi 16V
- Engine: 1.9 ltr 4cyl petrol, 160hp
- years produced: 1987-1992
Where is the man who designed the Lamborghini Countach driving to? Citroen asked this in advertisements for the BX in the late 1980s, because the legendary Italian stylist Marcello Gandini was responsible for both the Lambo and the French hatchback.
In GTi 16V guise, the BX is one of the most underrated hot hatches, with its low weight and 160 hp 1.9-litre engine giving it stormy performance. But the unique self-levelling hydropneumatic suspension is the real star. Combining a cushiony ride with precise handling means the BX rides like no rival. But it is a rare car, so it will be difficult to find one.
- Price range: £12,500-£21,000
- Our choice: RCZ-R
- Engine: 1.6-litre 4cyl, 267 hp
- years produced: 2012-2015
If a modern Peugeot is guaranteed to be a future classic, it is the rare RCZ-R. It looks almost identical to the stock car, but under its streamlined skin it is bursting with exotic high-performance upgrades that make it fast and fun to drive. The 267PS 1.6-litre engine features forged pistons, reinforced connecting rods and a twin-scroll turbo, while the chassis benefits from a lowered and reinforced suspension, plus front brakes from the 206 WRC rally car.
As you’d expect, it’s a riot to ride, with stormy acceleration and scalpel-sharp handling. But it won’t be long before others get wind of this otherwise low-key fast coupe, so buy now before it’s too late.
Renault Clio V6
- Price range: £38,000 – £90,000
- Our choice: Clio V6 MK2
- Engine: 3.0-litre V6, 247 hp
- years produced: 2001-2005
A mid-engine, rear-wheel drive, and two-seat supermini? It seems crazy today, but that’s exactly what Renault delivered when it launched the wild Clio V6 in 2001. With a powerful 227 hp engine where the rear seats should be and a bulging body, the fiery French fantasy is in a league of its own when it comes to attracting attention.
The faltering handling made early cars a bit of a handful, but the facelifted 247bhp version that arrived in 2003 had chassis modifications for more predictable handling. Yet you still need your mind. It’s unlikely mainstream brands will make something so daring anymore, so it’s no surprise that prices are on the rise.
- Price range: £2,000 – £5,000
- Our choice: Espace 2.0 TXE
- Engine: 2.0-litre 4cyl, 120 hp
- years produced: 1984-1991
This groundbreaking passenger car looks as futuristic today as it did when it made its debut in 1984. With its distinctive angular styling, fiberglass body panels and large glass area, the Espace offers seven seats in compact dimensions. The cabin is extremely versatile, with seats that can be folded down or removed, while the front seats pivot to create a seating area when stationary.
It drives well too, with punchy petrols and frugal diesels, plus a remarkable car-like handling. In a world of high-riding SUVs, this increasingly rare Renault MPV is a bit new these days and also a guaranteed future classic.
Renault Sport Megane R26
- Price range: £6,000 – £14,000
- Our choice: Megane F1 Team Edition R26
- Engine: 2.0-litre 4cyl petrol turbo, 227 hp
- years produced: 2006-2009
Renault has a rich history of hot hatch heroes – and the Mégane R26 is one of the best. Built to celebrate the brand’s success in Formula 1, the high-speed front suspension is identified by its unique decals and 18-inch alloys. Under the skin is a punchy 227 hp 2.0-litre turbo engine, plus a Cup chassis with stiffer springs, a limited-slip differential and powerful Brembo brakes.
The stripped-down two-seat R version is even more exciting, but is best reserved for high seasons and holidays. Both are rare, but if you find one, you’ll be rewarded with a popping retro rocket.