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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.

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• Future classics that could make you money

For those looking to relive their youth, the raucous little Citroen Saxo VTS and Renault Clio 172 hot hatches will appeal. If you’re more inclined to waft along in sumptuous comfort in a way only the French have been able to master, the quirky Citroen C6 will be a great buy. 

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.

Citroen Saxo VTS

Years produced: 1997-2003Price range: £1,000-£4,000Rarity: ★★★☆☆Maintenance: ★★★★★Investment: ★★★★☆

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When it was new, the Citroen Saxo range was generally sold on cheap finance deals, which made the constant stream of special editions affordable to virtually anyone. Some of those buyers would stretch themselves to buy the warm VTR version with a 98bhp engine, yet what every Saxo owner dreamed of was the 118bhp VTS, marked only with subtle 16v badges. That might not sound powerful by today’s standards, but the Saxo weighed less than a tonne so it was hilarious fun. 

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If any of those buyers want to realise that dream now, they’ll find the VTS is almost extinct. Only a few have survived without being crashed, rallied or badly modified. A cared-for, original car will be a blue-chip investment. Or just buy a tatty one and have some cheap fun.

Peugeot 306 GTi-6

Years produced: 1996-2002Price range: £1,500-£8,000Rarity: ★★★☆☆Maintenance: ★★☆☆☆Investment: ★★★★☆

With the very best examples of the original Peugeot 205 GTi now selling for more than £35,000, anyone on a budget who wants to experience a great hot hatch from the French manufacturer’s golden age should look up to a 306 GTi-6. As with its 205 stablemate, it was a highly regarded performance machine when it was brand new, and it remains neatly styled and an absolute hoot to drive today. In fact, some experts would suggest it’s a better car all round than the 205. Buy one now before the investors start to catch on.

Renault Avantime

Years produced: 2001-2003Price range: £2,000-£8,000Rarity: ★★★★☆Maintenance: ★★★☆☆Investment: ★★★☆☆

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The thought of a coupé version of a Renault Espace MPV still seems bonkers. But the firm’s idea was that coupés didn’t need to be cramped, and that you could have style and space. The Avantime was certainly a striking looker, and it was more practical than an Audi TT or BMW 3 Series Coupé. However, the car-buying public disagreed, meaning that the Avantime was, and is, a real rarity. They’ve always had a loyal following, though, which keeps values buoyant.

Citroen C6

Years produced: 2005-2012Price range: £1,500-£7,000Rarity: ★★★★☆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. 

Peugeot 406 Coupe

Years produced: 1997-2003Price range: £500-£3,500Rarity: ★★☆☆☆Maintenance: ★★★★☆Investment: ★★☆☆☆

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Italian styling house Pininfarina is most famous for its work with Ferrari, but when it redesigned the humble Peugeot 406 saloon into a coupé, the result was no less beautiful. Yet underneath the gorgeous exterior, the 406 was a practical four-seater with the solid mechanicals of a family saloon.

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That means a choice of four-cylinder or V6 petrol engines or a 2.2-litre turbodiesel powerplant. Even with the V6 it’s not a sports car, though, with a soft ride making it feel more like a relaxed grand tourer. At least age has been pretty kind to the 406 Coupé’s styling, and although the interior is not up to the standards of those of most modern cars, the body still looks good today. 

The V6s and diesel engine can be expensive to fix; in some cases, routine maintenance bills for items such as a cambelt could comfortably exceed the value of the car itself. We would seek out an uncomplicated 2.0-litre petrol model with the posh SE trim for a usable everyday classic.

Renault Clio 172

Years produced: 1999-2004Price range: £1,500-£5,000Rarity: ★★★☆☆Maintenance: ★★★★☆Investment: ★★★★☆

Renaultsport-tweaked hatchbacks are legendary among enthusiasts, and the Clio 172 is the cheapest way to get a slice of the action. Its light weight and sharp handling help it to run rings around more expensive cars. This reputation and ability mean that many 172s have been modified, used hard on track days, crashed or stolen. Find one that hasn’t and its value will climb, just as it did on the Clio Williams that came before it.

Modern classics

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