‘It is a car that nobody expected,’ explains Thomas Bürkle, chief designer at Hyundai, referring to the i30 Fastback. We are in Valencia and about to drive the South Korean marque’s latest product – a compact coupé which this month joins the popular i30 family. The Fastback is a niche product for Hyundai, with a mission to portray a more daring side to an otherwise rational brand.

The i30 Fastback has been designed and produced in Europe for Europe – specifically with a more female (and more informed) customer base in mind. The creators hope the dynamic coupé silhouette and compact yet practical four-door design will appeal to the sort of driver who may not have considered Hyundai before.

The i30 was designed with a European market in mind, focusing on a more female and informed customer base

This isn’t the marque’s first venture into the compact coupé world. The superbly angular 1974 Pony and the shapely 2007 Coupe both explored the theme in different ways. Bürkle admits the two played a part in his design concept. ‘They had big gestures; the Coupe especially had a lot of drama,’ he says, suggesting this will come across in the new i30 Fastback. He says he was inspired by exotic gran turismos of car design history. ‘I wanted to sketch a car that is coupé for every day, one that didn’t sacrifice on space, with an eye-pleasing silhouette.’

The car we are about to drive certainly looks different to its hatchback and estate siblings. The body has been stretched to be 115 mm longer than the hatch, while the roofline is positioned lower and neatly tapers at the rear. The nose is elongated and the Hyundai cascading grille set a little further down. The lights are slim, rear haunches pronounced, and the choice of specially-designed 17- or 18-inch alloys make for an interesting-looking vehicle.

The cabin is a considered space – connected without allowing technology to overwhelm the driver. There is an eight-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, wireless phone charging, a rear-view camera and the Premium SE models come with a panoramic sunroof. A reasonable choice of fabrics and manmade leather trims in a palette of contemporary colours are on offer, and at 450 litres, the boot is generous for a coupé of this size. 

Hyundai looked to the 1974 Pony and 2007 Coupe models in its i30 design

Hyundai is a safety-conscious company and so this car comes with a generous list of features including lane-departure warning, forward-collision warning, lane-keep assist and autonomous emergency braking as standard across the range and blind-spot warning optional on the higher spec cars. Slight tweaks on the chassis settings, which now sits 5 mm lower, make the ride and handling more agile and the steering more precise.

Hyundai is a marque to watch. In the last ten years, car sales in Europe have increased by as much as 90 per cent with 30 new and updated models planned by 2021. Much of this is thanks to brand creative director Peter Schreyer. The designer, responsible for sketching the excellent first Audi TT, has been instrumental in creating the existing theme. Today Schreyer sits on the board of directors in Seoul and has the power to make new product decisions – unusual in the conservative auto world but one that has paid off.

Under his sharp gaze the three brands – Genesis, Hyundai and Kia – have maintained individual identities with Kia positioned as the fun and affordable choice, Genesis the luxurious arm and Hyundai representing stability. This makes the i30 Fastback an interesting proposition. Perhaps the time is right for this more established marque to step out of its comfort zone and risk being a touch more daring.