Color: Blue/Black-Green Flash
Asics' marketing pitch: Say hello to an entirely new and totally comfortable natural running experience.
Surfaces tested on: Road, ambient temperature of 25° C/77° F
Upper: Mesh, synthetic suede overlays, TPU welds. Inner sleeve.
Midsole: Dual density midsole in a stacked design. 4 mm heel to toe drop
Outsole: Hard AHAR carbon rubber in heel, softer blown rubber under mid and forefoot.
Weight: 298 gms/ 10.5 Oz for a half pair of US11/UK 10/EUR 45/CM 29
Widths available: D-standard (reviewed).
US MSRP: $110
If you’ve read our review of the $140 33M, you already know that we have a favorable view of the cheaper 33FA. Out of three new ‘naturals 33 series’ models released this year, namely the 33M, 33FA and the cheapest 33DFA, the $110 FA is the one which sticks, and ironically the reason why you shouldn’t buy the other two. And why might that be?
Looking at the lay of the land will help us understand the reason. The $140 33M is very soft to run in, but ultra heavy by today’s standards. Its upper is the most ‘relaxed’ of the three, perhaps too much so and bordering on sloppy. The heel collar grip isn’t exactly confidence inspiring, and the tongue’s attached the traditional way sans a gusset.
At the bottom is the $90 33DFA, which has a snug upper – pronounced in the midfoot – and a toned down softness. It weighs nearly the same as the 33FA, surprisingly, and comes with problems of its own. As far as the heel to toe drop is concerned, a 4 mm gradient equalizes all three models, so neither has an advantage over the other in this department.
Asics does a commendable job at differentiating all three, and consequently the 33FA sits in the sweet spot. It is substantially lighter than the bulky 33M, only marginally heavier than the 33DFA, and the cushioning softness feels just right.
Not too mushy, and though hard to believe it, the ride can even be called responsive – a rare occurrence when it comes to Asics.
The 33FA also comes equipped with an inner sleeve (we thought that day would never come), and in the process produces a quality of upper fit which is neither too loose like the 33M, nor too tight like the 33DFA. Just feels consistent throughout.
The level of segmentation which the Japanese brand aimed to achieve with the 33FA also comes in handy when you step out of the Asics playground. If you compare this shoe with the current crop of popular 4 mm drop neutrals – say models such as the NB Zante/Boracay, Skechers GRR4, Nike LunarLaunch among others – the 33FA still comes out as sufficiently differentiated.
The 33FA fills the niche which offers a low heel drop with a softer quality of cushioning usually expected from a traditional, high heel drop neutral. This meld of characteristics makes the 33FA stand-out on its own unique traits and worth a consideration when shopping for a cushioned low-drop.
Externally, the upper looks similar in parts to the one on 33M. The uppermost mesh layer is an engineered type, which functions using a combination of open and closed areas for intended ease of ventilation (more visual than functional in this case) and support, respectively.
It just so happened that our reviewed color was blue, and it brought back memories of the 2013 Nike Lunarglide 5. And why bring a Nike to an Asics review? Because looking at both the shoes, the 33FA’s engineered mesh seems an uncanny, straight lift from the LG5. Coincidence? Perhaps. Worth a fleeting thought.
There’s a second layer below; an air mesh concealed between two layers. Slightly squishy to hand feel when squeezed, and that’s one of the reasons which makes the 33FA upper a comfortable place to be in. All of that is smoothened out by a base layer of inner sleeve.
The sleeve fabric is attached to the heel collar lining by a turn-around/reverse seam, and the tongue is stitched in flat lock type. The use of both these seams eliminates bumps inside. The tongue itself is meagerly padded and overlay-free expect for the strip of lacing guide on top.
We wonder why the 33M and DFA skip using the inner sleeve, since it just makes the interior feel so much better. Not to mention, putting a stop to tongue slide, a commonplace happening in most Asics models. Take the 33M for example; the tongue shifts to one side after a mile of running. The 33DFA fares even worse.
The heel collar is collapsible, one of the two natural 33 models (other being the DFA) to do so. There isn’t much padding, but as regards the heel grip, the job gets done. A pliant heel area will come as a relief for Asics loyalists who find the hard, molded counter construction intimidating.
The collapsible wrap runs gently over the Achilles with a consistent grip. The back also sports the solitary bit of reflectivity, shaped in the form of the Asics logo.
Overall feel of the upper is supple, moving with the foot without being hindered by thick layers. The first upper mesh is single piece, and cleverly joined at the heel with a concealed seam. Stitch free, artificial suede panels go over the midfoot and heel areas, and a small strip arcs over the toe bumper (which has an internal stiffener, by the way).
The suede is thin, supremely flexible and is fused near-flush with the upper. The forefoot area is kept free of suede materials on top, and fit duties are assigned to the upper fabric.
The Asics logo is molded on the lateral side, propping up an otherwise droopy upper. That doesn’t extend to the inner side, where the logo makes do with a printed version of itself.
The lateral side is the ‘retail’ side, the customer facing side of the shoe, and a crisp silhouette makes for better presentation. The molded logo helps achieve that aesthetic.
The fit quality will please many. The upper closes on the foot with consistent snugness on all sides, with no pressure points or intruding overlays bending in on the foot.
The inner sleeve makes the forefoot fit snug, yet is contrasted by the widely curved toe bumper, which opens up much space ahead of the toes. It depends from person to person, but if your second toe is longer than the big toe, then fit try a half size smaller and see how it feels.
We thought that the spartan tongue will have the lacing pressure bear down on the foot, but that’s not the case. There is top down pressure, but consistent in snugness as rest of the upper, and the lacing guide insulates the cinch. The 33FA lacks a last/reserve eyelet for lacing, but its absence isn’t felt. Even without it, the lacing performs adequately as far as lockdown is concerned.
The only disappointment is that there isn’t an option of a wide fit. Some level of custom fit is achievable by loosening the first row of lacing, which opens up room without affecting the quality of fit.
The other alternative to broaden your choice of fits is to buy the roomier 33M or the tighter 33DFA, which will have you stepping into a different territory altogether. Not the best workaround, we’d say. Always a good idea to try and make the better shoe work for you.
Across the 2014 naturals 33 line-up, the stacked design of the midsole is a common treatment, though with variations in stack heights and foam density.
Much like its maximal brother the 33M and the firmer DFA, the 33FA double decks two foams sheets together, one atop another. The order is softer foam near the upper, and a firmer compound below.
This heightens the cushioning sensation just below the foot, and likely to form a part of first impressions when trying them on at the store.
The outsole is a departure from the standard Asics layout which usually has a ‘guidance line’ cutting across sections of rubber. The design is specific to the 33 series, and within that, customized to the FA and DFA. The geometry might look alike for all three, but the FA and DFA has what the 33M doesn’t. Which brings us to the topic of the ‘Fluid Axis’
Under the heel area, there is a X-shaped area which exposes the softer black foam, and the design intent here seems to make the FA and DFA more responsive and adaptive than delivering just softness, which was the case on the 33M. A Y shaped splay area under the forefoot counter balances the heel design.
Most of the 33FA’s 298 gm/10.5 Oz weight is concentrated in the lower parts, and the outsole rubber is likely a significant contributor. Rubber is applied on all wear and transition areas, including the heel and majority of the forefoot. Midfoot transition is taken care of by the midsole foam making contact with the road. The toe spring is of average height, but the heel is fairly flat and unrockered/beveled.
This translates into the heel edge being the striking point for rear-foot landers, and the ‘Y’ shaped area for forefoot strikers. Owing to the flat lug surface and hard wearing compound, initial shredding is minimal and the 33FA should be durable long term.
On a side note, we thought that the forefoot will be flexible due to all that grooving, but it turns out to be surprisingly stiff. The reason is that the singular flex groove don’t run across the full sideways length, and is blocked by outsole rubber on the lateral side.
If the success of the Fluid Axis ‘X’ and ‘Y’ design was to be measured by cushioning responsiveness, then yes, that goal is achieved to a certain extent.
The opening of the firmer base splays open when body weight is applied, creating a sensation which can be termed as responsive. This might not be a speed shoe, but cadence building isn’t hard for long runs; the uniformity and un-mushiness of the midsole does good in that aspect.
And in line with what the middle ground the DFA is supposed to represent, softness and spring-back is blended and balanced well. This behavior is a refreshing change from many soft-only Asics models.
Forefoot transition area is split diagonally by the ‘Fluid axis’ groove, separating the big toe push off area from rest of the forefoot. While we understand that this is meant to smooth toe-offs, it is hard to sense whether it makes a difference during use.
Stack heights aren’t very high (20 mm heel, 16mm forefoot), and the white midsole foam walls flare out slightly outwards at their base without cushioning grooves. This produces a stable ride for the 33FA, without any one-sided bias. The ride is perceptibly neutral, while offering the trappings of a cushioned midsole.
The 33FA is not a shoe which will dazzle you with superlative cushioning and upper design pyrotechnics, but rather a 4 mm drop, soft riding workhorse which gets the job done silently. Like we said in the beginning, this is the only 33 series product which sticks. And $110 is a price value sweetener too.
(Disclaimer: For this review, Solereview bought the shoe at full US retail price.)