French cars have a bad reputation, don’t they? OK, this is the country that brought us the Citroen 2CV. And the Peugeot 1007 was also pretty rubbish. Who wants sliding doors on a small city car? It was heavy and slow and ugly. Three “qualities” no one looks for in a vehicle. But this is also the country Bugatti came from, and Alpine promise to make some exciting cars. Renault has won races and championships in F1. And, of course, Grand Prix racing originated in France, and the famous 24-hour race at Le Mans is a jewel in the crown of motor racing, so France has contributed more than its fair share to the motor car.
We’re not saying Citroen is the worst car brand in France. We’re saying they’re the fifth-best of the five we’re ranking. There are close to twenty car makers in France. No one outside France has heard of brands like Aixam, who make tiny city cars, De la Chapelle, who only offer a couple of cars or Exagon, who started as a race team, as they’re all small manufacturers. Everyone’s heard of Citroen. Maybe that’s because they make cheap cars. They’ve always made inexpensive cars. At 22 years old, Andre-Gustave Citroen patented a chevron-shaped gear used in milling that revolutionised car production, allowing him to make small cars cheaply. These guys were the originators of the hatchback. When the Citroën 11CV Commerciale launched, it was intended for tradesmen, but it caught on as a family car. Between 1925 and 1934, the world’s largest advert for the carmaker was displayed on the Eiffel Tower. Proof that Citroen knows how to market their brand. They just don’t make great cars.
Peugeot was founded in 1896, but the company began in 1810 when the family-owned a steel foundry eventually began making hand tools and kitchen equipment and finally bicycles before moving into the motor car industry. We’ve already mentioned the 1007, but that’s not the only reason Peugeot rank in the fourth spot. What about the Peugeot 208? Between 2012 and 2019, owners complained about its poor reliability, but the sales kept on coming. Oh, and Peugeot can’t make hot hatches, but no one’s told them that. They seem to think they can because the 205 GTI was a decent car back when, but the 308 GTI looks awful and handles poorly.
We’ve chosen to put Alpine third on the list because it’s a brand with a lot of potential. In 2021, the brand will be in F1, where we’re expecting it to scrap around for points like the Renault team did in 2020. As long as Alonso doesn’t moan too much like he did when he drove for McLaren Honda, the Alpine name should get good brand recognition in 2021. But what about their cars? The mid-engine rear-wheel drive A110 looks like a good car. It’s got a nine out of ten rating with Top Gear, who described it as “A terrific car” and “a genuine exponent of lightweight and something pleasingly different to drive.” High praise is good because they don’t make anything else.
We’re only rating Bugatti as the second-best French car brand because they’re not owned by the French. OK, that has some advantages. Being part of the VW group means Bugatti have a massive budget to spend. The money needed to create the Veyron back in 2005 wouldn’t have been available to a small independent sports car maker. The first batch of Veyrons cost £5 million each to produce but was sold for £1 million apiece. They now make the Chiron, which is the successor to the Veyron. At £2.3 million, the price of a Bugatti’s rose sharply in the last 16 years.
If you owned the Renault Vel Satis, you’ll be shouting at the screen now. You’d also be annoyed at us calling Renault the top French brand if you shelled out between £24,000 and £28,000 on a Renault Avantime. There’s a lot of hatred online for the Twingo too. Its engine is at the back, but it’s no Porsche 911. So, what cars have Renault made that people liked? Well, they were the firm that created the MPV segment when they released the Espace in 1985. The Renault 5 ushered in the supermini segment of the market. They sold 5.5 million of them over 14 years. It’s successor, the Clio, has only sold 3.8 million in the past three decades. Sales and success aren’t everything, but when you want to know which French car brand is best, there’s no clearer way of judging.
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