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22 Nov 2013
Rob Griffin Rob Griffin

The best and worst French cars


French cars are often - and unfairly - seen as the poor relations to their German and Italian counterparts. Rob Griffin looks at the best and worst French cars.

The 6 best and worst French cars

While the Germans have a reputation for reliability and the Italians are seen as exciting, marques from France are regarded as more middle-of-the-road.

And, although there's been no shortage of dull machinery coming out of France over the years, there have also been plenty of cars that changed the motoring landscape.

The best French cars: Renault 5

The Renault 5

A timeless masterpiece, this supermini first appeared in the early 1970s and had innovations such as plastic bumpers and door handles formed by cut outs in the bodywork.

However, one of its best features was a deep hatchback that opened down to the floor.

Cute, easy to drive and perfect for manoeuvring around jammed city centres, it's little wonder the Renault 5 enjoyed huge success and was seen as a trend setter for almost 25 years.

More than five million had been sold by the time production stopped in 1996.

The best French cars: Peugeot 205

A Peugeot 205

Although production of the wonderful Peugeot 205 ceased in the late 1990s, you can still see plenty of these vastly successful machines on the road.

This is unlike the Metros and Fiat Unos it competed against in the competitive supermini space.

First arriving in the early 1980s, it proved itself to be robust and reliable, while rapid versions such as the 205 GTI – in either 1.6 or 1.9 versions – gave Peugeot instant kudos in the hot hatch arena.

A stunning car that still looks the part today.

The best French cars: Citroen DS

A Citroen DS

Famed for its aerodynamic, futuristic styling, the DS arrived in 1955 and stayed in production for the next two decades.

The fact it was so unique looking and arrived at a time when France was rebuilding and reasserting itself after the war, helped make it popular.

Pitched as an executive machine, the DS featured an innovative hydropneumatic suspension that included an automatic leveling system and variable ground clearance.

By the time the last one rolled off the production line, almost 1.5 million had been made. They were even used on the rally circuits.

The worst French cars: Renault 9

A Renault 9

It's hard to believe this bland machine was actually named European Car of the Year back in 1982.

You'd be pretty hard pushed to find a more uninteresting saloon, says Giles Chapman, author of The Worst Cars Ever Sold.

"There is nothing desperately wrong but it's just so uninspiring in every way – looks, engineering and image," he says.

"It didn't really have any innovations of any kind and was totally and utterly mundane."

The worst French cars: Citroen 2CV

A Citroen 2CV

It's fair to say that the 2CV polarises opinion.

Those in favour point to its quirkiness while critics bemoaned its remarkably soft suspension that made cornering an interesting experience.

Meanwhile, 0-60mph could be achieved as long as you weren't in a hurry.

It was originally conceived as a budget car to help encourage French peasants to move on from the horse and cart.

But it proved popular enough with subsequent generations to stay in production for more than 40 years.

It's iconic, perhaps, but hardly a triumph of engineering.

The worst French cars: Renault Avantime

A Renault Avantime in blue

The bizarre Avantime was built by Renault affiliate Matra to be a cross between a coupé and a multi-purpose vehicle but just looked odd.

Particularly weird were the massive doors that meant you could virtually get in the back without folding down the front seats.

"A lot of car journalists liked it because it was waacky but it was a big disaster," says Giles Chapman.

"It had a lot of teething problems and was pretty badly built so you'd have to question the judgment of people that thought it was a good car."


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