No other nation can claim to have mastered the dark art of hot hatch building to quite the same degree as France. French hot hatches, certainly the best ones, tend to be lightweight, low tech and blessed with the kind of keen, pin-sharp handling that only a Gallic hot hatch can offer! France’s mastery of the hot hatch has threatened in recent decades by the rising tide of rivals from further afield, plus a low point in the middle of the last decade where it seemed that many (Peugeot in particular) had lost their way. The good news is that this lull is now firmly in the past, and that France’s car makers have once again discovered the simple joys of hot hatch motoring.
With this in mind, here are our top 10 French hot hatches and the ITG filter we’d recommend fitting to them.
1) Peugeot 205 GTI
Well now, we thought we may as well get the most obvious entrant out of the way nice and early – the incomparable 205 GTI. Great looks, motorsport pedigree, an eager engine with buckets of tuning potential, all allied to one of the finest hot hatch chassis of the 1980s – it’s a compelling mix nowadays, three decades ago it was like nothing else on earth! Of course there was one downside; famously ‘snatchy’ handing when driving at the limit, and many GTIs met their maker on tightening country bends, victims of lift-off oversteer.
Which ITG filter you should go for rather depends on whether you’re looking at a race spec car complete with Individual Throttle Bodies, or a road car. We can supply both via our Maxogen and ProFilter ranges.
2) Renault Clio 172/182/Cup
Mark our words, in 10 years time (probably less) we’ll look back on the days when Clio 172s and 182s could be picked up for buttons (Cup aside), and collectively kick ourselves for not buying them by the bucket load! Renault was alone in proving that France still knew how to turn out a scintillating hot hatch for much of the noughties, and the Clip 172 and 182 were undoubtedly the firm’s high point. Capable of bloodying the noses of cars which are (on paper at least) far more potent, Clio 172 and 182s stick to the classic hot hatch formula of low weight and keen handling, allied to an engine with buckets of character – and even more tuning potential. We’d grab one while they’re still relatively plentiful and affordable.
3) Citroen AX GT/GTI
The Clio and 205 simply too heavyweight for your tastes? Then might we suggest you turn to Citroen, specifically the AX GT and GTI. Neither way much more than an empty fag packet, both are thoroughly old school and brim with naturally aspirated charm! What the AX lacks in safety features, equipment and rust proofing it more than makes up for in ‘chuck-ability,’ and you could make a strong case for the GT and GTI variants being among the most criminally overlooked greats in the hot hatch history. The only issue is actually finding one – the British weather and generations of ‘spirited’ drivers have taken their toll on the AX population, but you’ll be rewarded when you do manage to unearth a decent one.
4) Renault Megane Renault-sport 265 Cup S
From one extreme of the French hot hatch spectrum to another, the recently replaced Renault-sport Megane adds polish to the timeless recipe; it’s a more complete and capable proposition as direct result, and a car as at home on the morning commute as it is the track. Don’t go thinking that the Megane has lost any of its ultra-aggressive edge with its newfound maturity however, as nothing could be further from the truth. In Cup guise the Megane is both brutally powerful and massively rewarding to pilot at the very edge, traits which have all but confirmed it as a future hot hatch icon.
We’re such big fans of the 2010 onwards Megane that we’ve added it to the Maxogen Induction Kit range.
4) Citroen Saxo VTR/VTS
Forget any preconceptions about the Saxo you might have picked up during its early noughties dalliance with the Max Power scene, as the VTS and VTR variants can be incredibly rewarding to drive. Much of this comes down to their lightweight build and stripped back design, but their engines (1.6 8v in the VTR, 1.6 16v in the VTS) are also surprisingly capable, and, like many of the power plants on this list, can be made that bit better via the aftermarket addition of aggressive cam setups, free-flowing exhausts and, naturally, ITG induction.
5) Renault 5 GT Turbo
Not every French hot hatch has stuck with the traditional naturally aspirated formula, one of the most famous examples being the Renault 5 GT Turbo. Basic and pulled along by an ancient pushrod 8v it might have been, but turbocharging effectively rendered this null and void; by the standards of the time (the early ’90s) the 5 GT Turbo was fast, very fast! It helped, at least temporarily, that even more performance could be wrung from it by cranking up the boost and hoping for the best, but any power gains would invariably be short lived. There’s a reason 5 GT Turbos are a rare sight these days, and blown Cléon engines are a key factor!
6) Renault Sport Megane 225/R26
Slightly funny looking it might have been, but the performance of the R26 shape Megan was anything but comical. The first true performance Megane proved that Renault could work its hot hatch magic on cars larger than the Clio, while a successful run of ever faster, ever more hardcore special editions (often linked to the firm’s then all-conquering F1 operation) served to cement its position as one of the most capable performance hatches of the noughties.
7) Peugeot 208 GTI
Even the most ardent of Peugeot fans would have struggled to call its mid noughties offerings especially exciting, which is why the automotive world took to the 208 GTI in such a big way when it was launched back in 2016. It was one of the first sporting Peugeots fit to wear the iconic GTI badge for quite some time, and the first to successfully recapture the spirit of the mighty 205. It remains an attractive proposition, though perhaps one which hasn’t managed to sell as well as its maker was banking upon.
7) Peugeot 309 GTI
The 205 GTI too small? Well, then Peugeot still had you more than covered in the late ’80s via the 309, the performance version of which was also called the GTI. Powered by the same 128bhp1.9 engine as the top spec 205 GTI and blessed with the same handling (some say it’s even better, the extra length leading to more stable cornering), the 309 GTI grew to become the thinking man’s ballistic Peugeot – though finding one nowadays isn’t exactly the work of moments. Still, you can’t fault its classic hot hatch performance and sharp styling, plus there’s much to be said for straying from the herd every once in a while.
8) Renault Clio Williams
The mid ’90s were something of a low point for hot hatches across the board, with increased insurance premiums and ‘TWOCing’ at least partly to blame. One of the few exceptions to this was the Renault Clio Williams, the result of a glorious tie-up between Renault and the then dominant Williams F1 team. The very idea of a 2.0 16v engine in anything as small as a Clio was practically unheard of at the time, and there’s a strong argument for the ‘Willy’ being among the greatest hot hatches to have emerged from the ’90s full stop.
9) Peugeot 306 GTi-6
It was never the most dramatic of hot hatches and has never managed to acquire the same levels of cult appeal as its 205 predecessor, but the 306 GTI-6 was another unsung hero of the ’90s hot hatch landscape – and also the first mass produced, mainstream car to be offered with a 6-speed gearbox. Heady stuff indeed. Transmission aside, the 306 GTI-6 could call on one of Peugeot’s typically brilliant chassis, not to mention strong performance from its 2.0 16v engine, a lump that we’ve found to respond very well to induction work via the ITG range.
10) Renault Sport Clio 200 RS
The closest most of us will ever get to owning a Clio Cup racer, the 200 RS was launched upon an unsuspecting public back in 2009. Renault had been stung by mild criticism of its 197 predecessor and set out to do something about it, and while the 200 didn’t actually offer very much extra in the way of outright firepower, engineering tweaks (including revised cam timing and a new ECU) meant it delivered what shove it did have in a more entertaining manner, with more power available lower down in the rev range.