The best French cars

Models from French car brands can be fun to drive, stylish, and great value for money. Here we pick out some of our favourite French cars

Sam Naylor
Dec 2, 2021

French car brands have been hugely significant in the European car market since the early 1900s, and now export cars globally. Thanks in part to France being our neighbour across the channel, French models have sold strongly in the UK over the years, and many drivers will have owned a French car in the past and be looking to own one again.

The latest French models retain the qualities of cars built in years gone by, including comfort, chic design and excellent efficiency, but are genuinely better than ever. A once patchy reputation for reliability no longer applies, and cheap interior plastics have been swapped for cool textiles and soft-touch materials.

There’s a French model for everyone, from electric cars to hot hatchbacks, SUVs, people carriers and saloons. If you’re hunting for a new or used car, there are a number of reasons for you to have a French car on your shortlist.

Yet while the French car industry has a wide array of different models, they all come from a limited selection of manufacturers. The big three are Renault, Peugeot and Citroen, and there’s also DS, which could be described as a luxury spin-off brand from Citroen.

Despite there only being three main manufacturers, they’re three of the biggest car brands in the world, so there’s still plenty of choice if you're keen for a French motor. Read on to find out which one might be the right one for you.

French cars

1. Renault Zoe

Best French car for zero-emission commuting

Our pick Renault Zoe R135 Rapid Charge GT Line
Used deals from £21,995
Monthly finance from £317*

The latest Renault Zoe is a fantastic electric supermini, but it holds its own against traditionally fuelled rivals, too. It’s good to drive, with a high-quality interior and a feature-packed and easy to use media system. The fact it costs very little to run if you're able to charge it at home is a bonus, even if the initial cost of purchase is higher by virtue of its advanced electric technology.

In its latest form, it has a range of up to 245 miles on a single charge, which is more than enough for commuting. In fact, you could get away with only one charge per week if you live fairly close to your work. It’ll save you a lot of cash on petrol, and you’ll never have to go to a fuel station again if you can charge easily at home.

Yet if you do want to go on a longer trip, you can get into a Rapid Charge version. It’s a bit pricey for a small hatchback, but all electric cars typically cost more to lease, but with big running cost savings. This model allows you to stop at a charging station and take the battery from 10-80% charge in less than an hour.

RENAULT ZOE BUYERS' GUIDE

2. Citroen Grand C4 SpaceTourer

Best French car for families

Our pick Citroen C4 Grand SpaceTourer 1.2 PureTech
Used deals from £18,949
Monthly finance from £294*

Let’s get something out of the way first: yes, the Citroen Grand C4 SpaceTourer is a people carrier, and yes, people carriers aren’t as trendy as some seven-seater SUVs. Put that aside, though, because while an SUV might seem more desirable, an MPV like this is the ultimate in family transport.

For a start, getting in and out is much easier thanks to the lower seats, wider door openings and ergonomic design. Then there’s the huge amount of space inside - it’s absolutely massive and can seat seven, even with adults in the rearmost seats.

Finally, there’s the best thing about the Grand C4 SpaceTourer: it's brilliant value for money. Because many drivers don’t want a people carrier as fashion shifts, its price reflects that, so there's a bargain to be had here. It has loads of other plus points, too: it’s extremely comfortable, quiet and pretty frugal in both petrol and diesel forms.

CITROEN GRAND C4 PICASSO BUYER'S GUIDE

3. Peugeot 3008

Best French car for SUV lovers

Our pick Peugeot 3008 1.2 PureTech GT Line
Used deals from £17,216
Monthly finance from £232*

If the thought of an MPV really doesn’t sit well with you, then we reckon the best choice of French SUV is the Peugeot 3008 (or larger 5008 if you need seven seats). It certainly has a trendy exterior design, especially if you go for a GT Line model.

Yet the most striking aspect of the Peugeot 3008 is its interior. The French SUV has one of the best cabins around - provided you like digital screens rather than physical dials - with high-quality materials arranged in a stylish and interesting way. The dash spreads out in front of you using tactile fabric, with intricate buttons for the sat-nav and radio functions in the centre.

The 3008 doesn’t let the side down elsewhere, either, as it’s pretty good to drive. The 1.2-litre petrol is economical and fun to use, offering a surprising amount of power considering how small it is, and there’s loads of space inside. Poor ergonomics are a bit of a letdown, as the driving position isn’t very good and that small steering wheel remains divisive, but if you don’t mind that the 3008 is a fine choice.

PEUGEOT 3008 BUYERS' GUIDE

4. Citroen C1

Best French car for young drivers

Our pick Citroen C1 PureTech Flair
Used deals from £6,995
Monthly finance from £134*

The Citroen C1 is a great car for first-time drivers, or even just those who live in the city and need a cheap, reliable runabout. The car was developed alongside the Toyota Aygo, so it has the reliability of a Japanese car, yet has the personality of a French one. You could just as easily go for the Peugeot 108, which is also built in the same way, but can be slightly more expensive.

The C1’s 1.2-litre engine isn’t a powerhouse but it’s punchy enough for driving in the city, and it keeps insurance costs low for younger drivers as well. The light control weights mean it will be nice and easy to learn to drive in, too - and along with the good visibility and small size, it’s a doddle to park.

Best of all, it’s cheap to buy or finance in the first place. Go for a model that’s a few years old for the best bang for your buck. You’ll be able to find many models from around £100 per month. There’s enough room for four inside and a reasonable boot, but its most suited to short trips and commuting.

CITROEN C1 BUYERS' GUIDE

5. Peugeot 508

Best French car for long trips

Our pick Peugeot 508 BlueHDI 130hp GT Line Auto
Used deals from £20,599
Monthly finance from £324*

In recent years Peugeot has begun to move its cars towards the upper end of the market in order to take on German brands such as BMW and Mercedes. The most convincing effort so far is the 508 saloon, which has the kind of sharp styling you might expect to see on an upmarket saloon car.

This continues inside, as the luxurious interior is a great place to spend time. With digital dials and a modern-looking media system, it has all the tech you could want. The 1.5-litre diesel model is a decent choice, as it’s really economical but still has enough power to overtake easily on the motorway.

Go for the automatic version, as the manual gearbox isn’t very good to use, and the automatic suits the relaxed engine better. The 508 is comfortable, especially on the motorway, and has lots of room inside - and it’s great value too, undercutting German rivals of the same age and mileage.

Pricier models from less upmarket brands often lose value quickly, so you'll get the best value by picking an earlier model over a newer one, that's already been through the first few years of depreciation. This should also result in lower monthly payments if you go for PCP finance (where the monthly payments effectively cover the difference between the car's initial price and what it's expected to be worth at the end of the contract).

PEUGEOT 508 BUYERS' GUIDE

6. Renault Megane RS

Best French car for fun

Our pick Renault Megane RS
Used deals from £24,500
Monthly finance from £347*

The French car industry has an incredible track record when it comes to sporty hatchbacks. Manufacturers take their normal family hatchback models, add a powerful engine and improve the handling - often totally transforming the car.

Renault’s RenaultSport division has proven itself to be the very best at these transformations in modern times, and every single RS version of the Megane has been a joy to drive. The latest model is no exception: it’s fantastic for drivers looking for a model that offers the fun feel of a sports car but the practicality of a hatchback.

The base 280hp version is our pick as it’s the best value while still having loads of power and performance. It even rides more smoothly than the more expensive ‘Trophy’ model, so it’s better on rough roads. That it looks great is the icing on the croissant.

RENAULT MEGANE BUYERS' GUIDE

7. DS 3

Best French car for style

Our pick DS 3 1.2 PureTech Chic
Used deals from £7,290
Monthly finance from £142*

DS is a relatively new brand luxury, taking its name from one of Citroen’s most famous historic models. Its first model was the DS 3 (formerly the Citroen DS3), and this is still the brand’s most convincing effort. It’s a small, stylish three-door hatchback that was aimed at Mini and Fiat 500 drivers.

The DS 3’s biggest disadvantage when it launched was a high price, but that’s not the case with a used model, thanks to fairly heavy depreciation, meaning that new DS 3 models lost value quickly as they got older. A 2017 car with low miles is about £150 per month, which is pretty affordable for what is a stylish, good-to-drive and cheap-to-run runabout.

The interior isn't quite as upmarket as you'll find in the Mini Hatchback, but it’s at least as good as a Fiat 500 and the driving position is a bit better, with a less upright feel. The 1.2-litre petrol is economical and cheap to insure, and the DS 3 is quite fun to drive as well, so it’s worth shortlisting if you’re after a small, cool hatchback.

DS 3 BUYERS' GUIDE

8. Citroen C4 Cactus

Best French car for quirky usability

Our pick Citroen C4 Cactus 1.2 PureTech 110
Used deals from £11,995
Monthly finance from £220*

Citroen is a fairly conventional mainstream car maker these days, but it does manage to retain some of the quirky-yet-clever design details that the brand was famous for in the late 20th Century. The C4 Cactus is the best example: it looks different to other small SUVs, and is all the better for it.

The most interesting addition is the rubber door protectors, which prevent parking dents, but the main event is the cabin. Inside, the C4 Cactus feels more like an upmarket bistro than a car, with tasteful cloth seats and a clean, clutter-free dashboard.

It’s very comfortable, too. There’s no hint of sportiness that most modern cars strive for: it’s honest about what it is, which is a comfortable small family car. There’s lots of room inside for passengers and luggage, and it’s great value: a five-year-old car with around 20,000 miles costs from about £170 per month.

CITROEN C4 CACTUS BUYERS' GUIDE

*Representative PCP finance - Ford Fiesta:

48 monthly payments of £192
Deposit: £0
Mileage limit: 8,000 per year
Optional final payment to buy car: £2,923
Total amount payable to buy car: £11,926
Total cost of credit: £2,426
Amount borrowed: £9,500
APR: 9.9%

Buyacar is a credit broker, not a lender. Our rates start from 6.9% APR. The rate you are offered will depend on your individual circumstances.

 

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