French cars returning to la forme

Someone in a yellow jersey is pedalling around France in front of something called a peloton, and today is Bastille Day… Seems like as good a time as any to assess where French car manufacturers are at currently.
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It’s a worthwhile exercise considering L’automobiles of the past decade have been mostly disappointing.

Yes, there’d been a succession of thrilling Megane and Clio RS hatchbacks, but Renault also served up the Koleos, while the regular Megane – at least prior to an upcoming facelift – has been underwhelming.

Citroen has been creating some great-looking cars in recent years but rarely with the level of engineering beauty to match.

As for Peugeot, well it once built some of the most comfortable-driving cars around – and I still fondly remember a Peugeot 406 HDi sedan I drove around New South Wales in 2001 for a ride that was as smooth as its turbo diesel engine.

Since the company switched from manufacturing suspension components in-house to external suppliers, however, ride quality of Peugeots in general seems to have turned to merde.

A relief, then, that the 208 city car and latest-generation 308 small car point to a more promising bump-absorbing future.

Peugeot 208 GTi 20

And then there’s even more to like about the 208 than springs and dampers that are competent at dealing with Australian roads. Traditional ergonomic faux pas aside – such as the speedo-obscuring steering wheel – the 208 has an interior that can genuinely be described as semi-premium in its class.

This latest 2-series model also finally does some justice to the GTi badge, while Peugeot further proves it isn’t ignoring keen drivers with the RCZ R coupe.

Best not to mention the misguided Mitsubishis-in-disguise that are the 4008 (ASX) and 4007 (Outlander), yet the 2008 shows how good an SUV Peugeot can build when it goes it alone. (Though a four-speed auto in these times doesn’t really cut it.)

2014 Citroen Grand C4 Picasso 13

Fellow PSA company Citroen still needs to find its ‘2008’ in the SUV class, currently offering the ASX-based C4 Aircross, though if you need to move people and stuff there’s the excellent new Grand C4 Picasso (yes, Citroen is quite partial to that C4 nameplate). Then there's the quirky C4 Cactus, which Mike so desperately desires.

The C5 continues to be a smart offering in the medium-car segment, and the first and best of the company’s new DS-branded models so far, the DS3, is terrific at balancing its derriere on a windy road.

From the trio of the tricolour brands in Australia, it’s currently Renault that’s in the midst of a grand sales renaissance (and currently up 53 per cent year on year).

New management, better marketing and an expanded dealer network have helped Renault transform into Australia’s favourite French brand.

Renault Clio RS v Mini Cooper S_2

The Clio – snubbed in former years but now imported in latest-generation form – is performing solidly, ably supporting the Megane.

A lack of rear airbags takes some gloss off the Clio package but otherwise this is a great little city car that’s enjoyable to drive and boasting a funky interior with on-trend app-based infotainment.

And its target-market-nailing exterior styling – penned by former Mazda designer Laurens van der Acker – strongly suggests we should look forward to the next wave of Renaults, including the crucial next Megane.

Next up is the Clio-based Captur baby SUV that should inspire buyers more than the bigger Koleos.

Plus de bonnes voitures s’il vous plait (More good cars, please).