Best French modern classic cars you can afford

French car manufacturing has had its highs and lows, but the cars listed here are all bona fide modern classics

In automotive terms, France might be best known for its cheap, utilitarian creations, but its back catalog is also packed with elegant design and genuine innovation. The best French classic cars drip with joie de vivre and that’s really what owning a modern classic car is all about. 

Granted, some of these French fancies may have sold better than others (the Renault Avantime barely got a sniff in the UK market), but that only adds to their rarity - a key attribute in gaining classic car status. It’s often only after the passing of time that truly bold and innovative designs start to be appreciated.

The Citroen C6 was a bold design when it came out in 2005 and has aged gracefully, able to waft you along in supreme comfort while providing an alternative to the much more sterilised German norm. For those looking to relive their youth, the raucous little Citroen Saxo VTS and Renault Clio 172 hot hatches will appeal.

What’s certain is that none of these cars are dull and whatever you choose, there’s a real opportunity to gain an appreciating and usable modern classic with a distinctive French flavour.

Check out some modern classics from some other countries here

Peugeot 306 GTi-6 

  • Typical price: £5,500
  • Engine: 2.0-litre 4cyl, 167bhp
  • Years produced: 1996-2001 
  • Rarity: ★★★★☆
  • Maintenance: ★★★★☆
  • Investment: ★★★★☆

You’ll notice a theme with the French hot hatches from the 1990s and 2000s in this list. It was a golden era for these cars, and you can’t go far wrong with any of them. The 306 GTi-6 is one of our picks for classic car status, though, because it’s starting to become rare in original condition. 

The 306 is brilliant to drive thanks to its light weight, which means it makes the most of its 167bhp engine and even rides smoothly. Look out also for the equally exciting and collectable Rallye version, which ditched some creature comforts to become even lighter.

Renault Clio Renaultsport 172 

  • Typical price: £5,000
  • Engine: 2.0-litre 4cyl, 172bhp
  • Years produced: 2000-2005 
  • Rarity: ★★☆☆☆
  • Maintenance: ★★★★☆
  • Investment: ★★★☆☆

If you want a modern classic hot hatch, the Clio Renaultsport 172 (or the later 182) should be your first port of call. Not only did it sell really well, so there are still plenty around at low prices (although they are no longer the bargain they once were), it also happens to be one of the all-time-great hot hatchbacks. 

Given that it’s a tiny supermini with a 2.0-litre engine, performance is excellent, but it’s the chassis that’s the star of the show. It’s adjustable, lively and composed on B-roads, and makes a fantastic companion for daily driving, track days and anything in between.

Citroen Saxo VTS 

  • Typical price: £5,000
  • Engine: 1.6-litre 4cyl, 120bhp
  • Years produced: 1997-2003 
  • Rarity: ★★★★☆
  • Maintenance: ★★★★☆
  • Investment: ★★★★☆

For a long time, Citroen Saxos were so cheap and plentiful that they were readily scrapped, written off and thrown away – to the point that the more desirable models such as the VTS are now increasingly hard to come by. And just as with the Peugeot 205 GTI, mint examples look like a canny investment, with values rising rapidly in recent years. 

The Saxo VTS has the same ethos as the Peugeot, with a revvy four-cylinder engine, a lightweight body, and a brilliant chassis that encourages you to drive the door handles off it. A small, practical and endlessly enjoyable modern classic hot hatch.

Renault Avantime 

  • Typical price: £4,500
  • Engine: Various, up to 210bhp
  • Years produced: 2001-2003 
  • Rarity: ★★★★☆
  • Maintenance: ★★★☆☆
  • Investment: ★★★☆☆

Fans of unusual cars will already know about the Renault Avantime. It’s a very curious blend of a practical MPV and a coupé because there are only two side doors, each featuring a complex ‘double kinematic’ hinge mechanism. There was even a powerful 210bhp V6 engine option, further confusing the mixture – and therefore increasing the Renault’s appeal to those who love cars that break the mould. 

The Avantime is rarer and more practical than many modern classics, plus it has an upmarket interior for a car of its type, while the visibility and amount of light in the cabin are excellent thanks to all that glass.

Citroen C6

  • Typical price: £4,000
  • Engine: Various, up to 208bhp
  • Years produced: 2005-2012
  • Price range: £1,500-£7,000
  • Rarity: ★★★★☆
  • Maintenance: ★★☆☆☆
  • Investment: ★★★☆☆

Big Citroens have always been an oddball choice for new-car buyers, and after the first owner has experienced horrific depreciation, the values generally bottom out and then begin to rise as the cars become sought out by enthusiasts. The price of a C6 has never really fallen to banger territory, because its dramatic looks and amazing ride comfort ensure that the fans have always kept demand high. Most garages will wince when they see a C6, though, so if you do buy one, find a good specialist to look after it. 

Check out some future classics cars you should buy now...

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