The best French cars

French cars can be fun, stylish, interesting and great value. Here we pick out some of our favourites that you can buy right now

Sam Naylor
Oct 21, 2020

France, Britain, Germany and Italy dominated the European car industry for most of the 20th Century, and that legacy continues today. French cars are a reflection of the country that designs and produces them: they’re stylish and sensible at the same time.

Modern French cars have kept all the best attributes of models from years gone by - good comfort levels, cool design and practical interiors - and done away with some of the less desirable attributes (namely poor electrical reliability and cheap-looking interiors).

This leaves us with a big bunch of French cars that are bound to be of interest to any type of driver. There’s a 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 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 GT Line R135 Rapid Charge (2020)
Used deals from £23,495
Monthly finance from £327

The latest Renault Zoe is a fantastic little electric car, 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 will cost very little to run if you're able charge it at home is a bonus, even if the initial cost of purchase is much higher by virtue of its electric identity.

It has a range of just under 240 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 for around £365 per month. It’s a bit pricey for a small hatchback, but all electric cars are and you get a pretty new one for this, and this model allows you to stop at a service station and take the battery from 10-80% charge in less than an hour.

2013-2020 RENAULT ZOE BUYERS' GUIDE

2. Citroen Grand C4 Picasso

Best French car for families

Our pick Citroen C4 Grand Picasso 2.0 BlueHDI Exclusive EAT6 Auto (2015)
Used deals from £7,667
Monthly finance from £141

Let’s get something out of the way first: yes, the Citroen Grand C4 Picasso is a people carrier, and yes, people carriers aren’t very trendy in 2020. 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 Picasso: it's brilliant value for money. Because many drivers don’t want a people carrier like this anymore, 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 diesel form. Go for the automatic model because it’s not much fun to drive anyway, so you might as well take as much stress out of the family bus as you can.

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 £13,500
Monthly finance from £209

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 let down, 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 (2017)
Used deals from £4,791
Monthly finance from £97

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 for around £100 per month - even £80 per month or less if you pick an older one. 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 (2020)
Used deals from £12,600
Monthly finance from £231

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 on the inside, as the luxurious interior is a great place to spend time, and 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 auto 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, which will have more value still to lose. Go for an older model and you'll experience a smaller loss in value from what you paid and what you get for it when you sell (if you pay cash), or 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 RenaultSport Megane 280 (2018)
Used deals Limited stock

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 is the best at doing so 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 model 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 cake that is this fantastic car.

RENAULT MEGANE BUYERS' GUIDE

7. DS 3

Best French car for style

Our pick DS 3 1.2 PureTech 82 Chic 3dr (2017)
Used deals Limited stock

DS is a relatively new brand that takes its name from one of Citroen’s most famous cars and offers more upmarket cars built around Citroen parts. 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 £110 per month, which is pretty affordable for what is a stylish, good-to-drive and cheap-to-run runabout.

The interior here isn’t as good as what you get in a Mini Hatchback, but it’s at least as good as a Fiat 500 and the driving position is a bit better, too. 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 110hp
Used deals Limited stock

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’s a little different to other small SUVs, yet all the better for it.

The most obvious 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 pub 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: we found a 2017 car with around 20,000 miles for £175 per month.

CITROEN C4 CACTUS BUYERS' GUIDE

 

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