THIS WEEK Peugeot revealed its Vision Gran Turismo car for the GT6 driving game on PlayStation, just days after its boss confirmed that the RCZ sports car would not be replaced and the company was to stop making sports cars altogether.
It means new French sports cars are few and far between. But there have been some great ones in recent years – superb hot hatchbacks, outlandish mid-engined superminis and even Peugeot’s handsome RCZ coupé. Drivers who are after a used car that delivers powerful performance and will send tingles down their spine will find that French car makers have plenty to offer when it comes to fast, fun, affordable and usable sporty cars. Here are five of our favourites.
Citroën DS3 Racing
- Best for: The Clarkson thumbs-up
- Budget: £14,000
- Best buy: Anything well cared for
You had to really want a Citroën DS3 Racing if you were going to buy one when it burst onto the hot hatch scene in 2010. This no-compromise supermini cost more than a Mini John Cooper Works and six grand more than the DS3 THP 150 DSport on which it was based. But with just 200 examples coming to the UK from a production run of 2,000, Citroën didn’t care; with exclusivity on its side, the French car maker was never going to be saddled with unsold cars.
Fortunately for Citroën, word spread that Jeremy Clarkson wanted one. After reviewing it for Driving, he told the world how much he enjoyed it: “I loved driving it. I loved looking at it. I love the feeling now that it’s parked outside my house and I can use it for a trip to town this afternoon. It is a car that’s excellent to drive but, more importantly, it’s a car that makes me feel happy.”
Jeremy Clarkson said the DS3 Racing was a car that made him feel happy
What did he like so much? Well, it was a genuine “pocket rocket”. With its turbocharged 1.6-litre petrol engine tuned to develop 207 horses, the DS3 Racing could crack the 0-62mph sprint in just 6.5 seconds. To help keep it pinned securely to the tarmac, Peugeot had dropped the suspension by 15mm and widened the track by 30mm, and just in case anybody failed to appreciate that this was no run-of-the-mill DS3, a carbon-fibre body kit and some attention-grabbing decals were added.
With 18in wheels and stiff springs, the Racing looks the part and offers the sort of body control you’d expect of a hardcore road racer. But the electrically assisted power steering isn’t perfect, and getting all those horses down can prove troublesome – in the wet it’s especially easy to spin the power away.
Buyers could choose between two colour schemes: black with orange highlights and white with grey; most opted for the eye-popping orange option.
If you’ve now decided that your life is incomplete without a DS3 Racing, the first hurdle is finding one: Bugatti Veyrons are common in comparison.
Prices start at £12,000, but most cost north of £14,000. That’s quite a chunk of cash for a four-year old DS3, but you’ll be getting something that got a big thumbs-up from Jeremy Clarkson. Recommendations don’t come higher than that.
Peugeot RCZ R
- Best for: Making Audi TTs look common
- Budget: £24,000
- Best buy: As young and low-mileage as possible
The badge on a car influences drivers greatly. The thought of spending £32,000 on a new Peugeot might seem excessive, but for a new Porsche it would appear a bargain. So when, in 2014, Peugeot built a car that was almost as quick as a Porsche, nearly as exciting to drive and fully as good-looking, it struggled to get car buyers to see beyond the lion on the bonnet.
With its 267bhp turbocharged 1.6-litre engine, the RCZ R is a seriously rapid coupé that’s also rather more exclusive than pretty much any Porsche you care to mention. What’s most impressive about the car is what Peugeot’s engineers have achieved with its powerplant.
Its ability to overtake slower traffic and stay composed around corners makes it a star
Having all that power is one thing, but it’s the flexibility that makes it so intoxicating to drive. You can potter about enjoying the low-revs torque – 243 lb ft of it from just 1900rpm – or you can explore the red line at every opportunity, revelling in the ferocious acceleration. Thanks to shortened gearing the RCZ R will crack 0-62mph in 5.9 seconds, but it’s the ability to overtake slower traffic and stay composed around corners that makes it a star.
Distinguishing the R from lesser RCZs are standard 19in alloys, black pillars instead of brushed alloy, red brake callipers and a fixed boot spoiler. As with everything here, used examples aren’t common, but used prices start at about £23,000. For an extra grand, though, you can buy a pre-registered RCZ R with delivery mileage, saving around 25% on the list price. That’s what we call a performance car bargain.
Renault Alpine A610
- Best for: Confusing onlookers, who’ll think it’s a Lotus
- Budget: £12,000
- Best buy: One with a rust-free chassis
When the A610 was launched in 1992, British car enthusiasts were implored to shun the Porsche 911 for this alternative rear-engined sports car. Capable of doing 0-60mph in less than six seconds, the A610 topped out at almost 170mph and handled sweetly into the bargain. With its 2+2 layout the Renault looked gorgeous and rakish – but that badge was just too big a hurdle for potential buyers to overcome.
Conservative Brits stuck with their tried and trusted German machinery. The French car may have been good to drive, impressing the critics in its day, but the interior smacked of a cheap hi-fi system and if the back seats were occupied there was no luggage space of any kind. A hefty price cut a year after the A610’s arrival did little to boost sales. By the time Renault gave up, just 67 cars had been bought in Britain.
Even a good A610 is likely to be a money pit
Many of those cars have since bitten the dust, and it’s reckoned just 40 or so A610s survive in the UK. Many have been run on a shoestring, and with some parts having the durability of rice paper, these Renaults don’t appreciate being neglected. One or two come onto the market each year, priced between £10,000 for something tatty and £15,000 for something good. But with chassis corrosion, rusty subframes and tired interiors all par for the course, even a good A610 is likely to be a money pit.
There aren’t many specialists either, so whether you’re buying or maintaining an A610, it’s easy to have your fingers burnt. But there are a couple of excellent clubs that’ll help you keep an A610 running and if you don’t buy a complete lemon you could even get your money back – eventually. With the Alpine marque being revived next year, perhaps now is the time to buy this rare sports car.
Clio Renaultsport V6 MK 2
- Best for: The collector or investor
- Budget: £15,000
- Best buy: A car with the optional leather trim
Renault hasn’t been afraid to create some crazy cars over the years, and one of the most outlandish was the Clio V6, the successor to the mighty Renault 5 Turbo 1 and 2 of the 1980s. In 2001 Renaultsport and TWR took a humble supermini, ripped it apart, tore out the back seats and replaced them with a 3-litre V6 to create, well, a monster. With pumped-up arches and sills, the short-wheelbase car looked as evil as it was to drive.
Those first cars were known as the Mk 1, and 256 were sold. Then in 2003 came a heavily revised Clio V6, with an overhauled chassis plus a wheelbase stretched by 23mm so it was a different animal altogether – though be in no doubt: it was still an animal.
The Clio V6 Mk 2 is one of the most exhilarating performance cars to drive
Power was boosted to 255bhp (from 230bhp), the gear ratios shortened and the interior upgraded. In the process, the Clio V6 went from being one of the scariest performance cars to drive to one of the most exhilarating.
While the Clio V6 Mk 2 is worth seeking out for the driving experience it offers, its investment potential is pretty solid too. Of the cars in this list, the mid-engined Clio is the one most likely to appeal to collectors in the future. Just 1,018 Mk 2s were made, 354 of which came to the UK, but owners hang on to them. Few have done much more than 50,000 miles – you’ll pay £15,000 to secure something worth owning.
One of the main weak spots is the front lower ball joints, which cost more to replace than you might think. The dual-mass flywheels also fail, as do the ignition coils. Brake parts are costly, but the biggest expense could come from damaged bodywork as panels are expensive – and it’s no good trying to make a set of panels from a standard Clio fit.
Mégane Renaultsport 265
- Best for: B-road blasts
- Budget: £18,000
- Best buy: Mégane 265 with Cup chassis
You may be a whizz at calculus or astrophysics, but the chances are that you still can’t work out the confusing array of Renault Mégane variants in recent years. We’ve had Cups and Trophys galore, along with 225s, 230s, 250s, 265s and now 275s. There are fewer colours in the rainbow than there are Mégane derivatives.
None of this matters, though. What’s important is that Renaultsport Méganes are some of the finest hot hatches around, and the Mégane 265 is one of the best all-rounders of the lot. Better to drive than earlier hot editions, the 265 is also more affordable than the 275 Trophy that appeared in 2014 – prices start at just £15,000 for a three-year old car.
Renault offered two versions of the 265: a standard edition and a Cup, the former carrying a £1,200 premium. To confuse things, buyers of the standard model could spend an extra £1,350 on a Cup chassis, which brought 18in alloys, grooved brake discs, a limited-slip differential and stiffer suspension.
The raw figures don’t tell the whole story: the Mégane 265 is a hoot
Then, in 2014, an updated Mégane hit showrooms with the Cup option deleted, which is why few Cup-spec cars exist. Whichever model you buy, it’ll do 0-62mph in six seconds flat and 158mph, but as with any of the cars here, the raw figures don’t tell the whole story.
For a front-wheel-drive car the Mégane has indecently sweet steering, and its chassis is more adjustable than it has any right to be. As a result it’s great on road or track, but if you want a real laugh, seek out one of the ultra-rare Mégane 265 Trophy versions launched in 2011. Just 50 came to the UK, and they were a hoot to drive.