If there was a virtual report-card that ranked a brand’s performance based on the quality of their product intros, New Balance would have occupied one of the top spots last year.
New Balance has been doing a stellar job with their product updates. It broke out of the status quo in 2019 and released a flurry of new models, including various spin-offs based on the Zante Franchise.
The new FuelCell line had several gems, and even legacy models like the 1080 kicked into a higher gear with reformulated Fresh Foam. The 890V7 refresh took an entirely different path, and shoes such as the 1500V6 acquired new upholstery.
At the time of publishing this guide, most of New Balance’s assortment consists of late Fall or winter releases. The only true 2020 launches are the Fresh Foam Tempo and the 880V10.
The Fresh Foam Tempo is Zante reborn, so it’s a sign that New Balance is retiring the Zante branding from its running line. The ‘Z’ shoe exists in other categories, as evident from the newly released Zante Trainer.
We have an inkling that 2020 is going to be an interesting year for this shoe brand. Based on what currently exists in New Balance’s assortment, this guide contains solereview’s top picks. The FuelCell TC is excluded due to its restricted availability and limited wear-test data.
The last year’s guide had Hanzo in it. Unfortunately, it has been removed for 2020 due to its unavailability. It’s a pity, because the Hanzo is such a great racing flat.
1) Lightweight Neutral Trainer: New Balance 890V7
Forget everything you knew about the 890. The V7 is a markedly different shoe than all the versions preceding it. The single-density Revlite midsole has a firm feel while helping reduce the 890’s total weight. The new V7 weighs a mere 7.2-ounces, and that’s partly due to the upper.
New Balance trades the 890V6’s upper for a hyper-minimal knit construction. The interiors are surprisingly roomy and ventilated, making the 890’s upper comfortable for longer runs.
So who is the new 890V7 for? If you’re looking for a firm, lightweight trainer to do your fast road or treadmills run in, the V7 is a worthy addition to your shoe rotation.
2) Lightweight Neutral Trainer: New Balance Fresh Foam Tempo
The word ‘Zante’ is missing in this shoe’s name, but the Fresh Foam Tempo is very much an reincarnation of the grand Z.
The tell-tale signs are all there. Take, for instance, the 6 mm drop midsole that has a similar softness as the Zante V1. Or the minimal, sleeved upper that provides a distraction-free fit experience. Even the retail price is same as the Zante OG.
However, while the Fresh Foam Tempo is an excellent lightweight neutral trainer, the ride differs from the original Zante in several ways.
The Tempo uses a thin insole and fabric lasting, so there isn’t a lot of step-in softness. Even though the soft midsole has low density – like the Zante Pursuit and the Zante V1 – the ride feels a bit flat.
Most of the softness is packed inside the Fresh Foam midsole and the outsole. The outsole forefoot is made of blown rubber and is split for better articulation and transitions. So once you get used to the thinner insole and lasting, there’s sufficient comfort for runs up to a half marathon.
The Tempo’s upper fits and feels great. The full-length sleeve makes the interiors very smooth, and the soft heel and tongue lining adds soft-touch plushness. This shoe is highly reflective too; the side logos and the tongue label are designed with low-light visibility in mind.
3) Lightweight Neutral Trainer: New Balance FuelCell Rebel
The Fuel Cell Rebel and Propel are two lightweight neutral trainers separated by $20 and different spec-sheets. The Rebel has an advantage over the Propel with its superior upper, midsole, and outsole tech.
The Rebel can be summed up as a 7.3-ounce lightweight trainer which excels at a variety of runs. The lightweight build and tempo-friendly ride are good for fast days, with the midsole cushioning being sufficient for long-distance runs.
It’s also a better shoe for forefoot strikers due to its relatively narrow heel and a wider front.
4) Lightweight Neutral Trainer: New Balance FuelCell Propel
The New Balance Propel shares the ‘FuelCell’ label with the Rebel but caters to a different performance need. The Propel is an uber-soft daily trainer with a very roomy fit.
This is easily one of the softest performance running shoes you can buy. It isn’t the fastest or the lightest shoe off the block but if all day cushioning comfort is what you’re after, the Propel is a good product to find it in.
5) Cushioned Neutral Trainer: New Balance 880 V10
For a very long time, the 880 was fashioned in New Balance’s legacy running shoe formula. Namely, a multi-density stack of standard EVA foam that delivered a comfortable, yet unmistakably conventional ride character.
That changes for 2020. The 880V10 jumps on the fast-moving bus that is Fresh Foam, so gone are the staid-looking midsoles. In its place is a Fresh Foam midsole that breathes new life into this neutral trainer. The outsole now has a blown rubber front and an articulated design that enhances ride smoothness and cushioning.
There’s one thing to note if you’re swapping the 880V9 with the V10. The new Hypoknit upper of the V10 fits narrower in the front than the 9, so that might take some time getting used to.
Other than that, the 880V10 is a well-rounded neutral running shoe suited for daily runs.
6) Cushioned Neutral Trainer: New Balance Fresh Foam Beacon V2
Some runners view the Beacon as a shoe for faster runs. We don’t – the Fresh Foam Beacon V2 is a lightweight and cushioned trainer capable of most workouts but there are better shoes for speed workouts. For example, the 890V7 is a better speed shoe at the same price.
The Beacon uses a Fresh Foam midsole but its design differs from other Fresh Foam models, thus imparting it with differentiated ride quality. Instead of a full-coverage outsole, the midsole only comes fitted with strategically positioned lugs.
This exposed foam layout not only alters the cushioning experience – this results in a softer ground-strike and transitions – but also makes the Beacon super lightweight at a mere 7.7 ounces or 218 grams.
The ride and transition quality remind you of the Skechers GoRun (the older EVA foam-based models, not the Hyperburst) series; the 6 mm drop midsole offers a good transition economy.
Inside the gusseted upper, the fit is snug and the sizing happens to be slightly shorter. As is the norm, New Balance offers two widths.
The Beacon 2 uses the same midsole as the V1 under a redesigned upper. The said upper also comes with a redesigned heel that doesn’t grip as well as the V1. Of late, the heel grip and insole slide have been recurring issues on several New Balance shoes, so this isn’t an isolated case.
7) Max-Cushion Neutral Trainer: New Balance 1080 V10
To be honest, we thought that New Balance had lost the plot when it switched the 1080 to the Fresh Foam platform in 2016. Back then, Fresh Foam was very uninspiring and boring. And to have it on a shoe such as the 1080 – a shoe that was supposed to be an expression of the brand’s premium cushioning class – was disappointing.
That changed in 2019 with the 1080V9. The updated ride of the Fresh Foam midsole was soft, and had a cushioning depth that made long-distance runs comfortable.
The 1080V10 is even better. Not only does the reconfigured Fresh Foam midsole deliver what it promises – a superbly cushioned ride – but the outsole is also split to dial up the cushioning and make the loading process smoother. The forefoot outsole complements the midsole with a softer rubber.
Sizing fits true inside the knit upper; the 1080V10 comes in four widths should you want a wider or narrower fit.
8) Mild Support running shoe: New Balance Fresh Foam Vongo V4
The first Fresh Foam Vongo was a unique spin on the stability shoe concept, and the V4 is only but a gradual evolution of the original design.
A deep groove running down the center splits the outsole into two halves. This makes the shoe supportive by keeping the weight centered. The inner midsole has a higher curve along with a firmer sidewall, both of which add support. There’s some lateral midsole bias because of the softer outer sidewall.
The support features don’t mean that the Vongo isn’t cushioned. It is, after all, an 11-ounce shoe with a thick Fresh Foam midsole. So this is one of the cushiest ‘support’ shoes you can find.
So if you’re looking for a supportive running shoe with a somewhat neutral ride, then buying the Vongo V4 is an excellent idea. Its 4 mm drop is the only thing you need to look out for – if you’re not used to low-drop shoes, that is.
The Vongo V4 gets a sock-like upper with a knitted heel collar integrated into the wrap-around midfoot. The smooth upper fits true to size with adequate forefoot and toe-box space.
9) Traditional motion-control: New Balance 860 V10
In the previous edition of this guide, we did suggest that you grab the 860V9 while you can. Because the 860V10 is a brand new shoe with a slew of changes under the hood. But it’s still not too late – the 860V10 still has a lot of what made the V9.
For example, the triple-density midsole retains the firmer medial-post for inner midsole support. But you’re likely to notice the difference – the firmer wedge is no longer in contrast color and is integrated tonally into the midsole.
As a result, the 860V10 has a mild motion-control ‘stability’ shoe character. The engineered mesh upper fits true-to-size and has been updated with cleaner styling. The new molded heel cup design will be a hit or miss. You’ll either like the minimally padded fit or you’ll miss the generously padded collar of the 860V9.
10) Max Stability: New Balance 1540 V2
The 1540 V2 is a borderline orthopedic shoe, and somewhat of a throwback to New Balance’s origins. Calling it a ‘running shoe’ is a bit of a stretch considering its truck-like build quality and weight. The 1540 tips the scale at nearly 15 ounces, which means all weight considerations go out of the window.
And yet, if you want supreme stability at a price, look no further than the assembled-in-USA 1540. Not only does the midsole have a medial post, but it also has a TPU roll-bar which cups and wraps under the rearfoot. The stiff midsole is based on a wide foundation which augments stability. As a result, the 1540 has zero roll or bias.
The 1540 is offered in 5 widths which is virtually unheard of. The reinforced upper with its stitched bumper and panels are form-fitting so the optional widths allow you to select the fit you desire.
11) Lightweight Racer: New Balance 1400 V6
We love the 1400V6 because of its all-around goodness. Its lightweight and low profile construction make the 1400V6 perfect for short races of 5K and 10k. At the same time, the midsole is more cushioned than a racing flat. This design makes also the 1400V6 suitable for running fast training workouts in relative comfort.
The upper fit is also dialed in. The upper is snug but not uncomfortable, the interiors are smooth, and there’s ample ventilation.
Also, the Hanzo is no longer a part of New Balance’s main assortment, so the 1400 is your only choice.
12) Lightweight Stability Racer: New Balance 1500 V6
After five years, the 1500 series charts a new path – design-wise, that is. While it retains the essence of the 1500V5 by being a medially-posted road racer, everything about the V6 is new.
The V6’s updated ride is firm and efficient as always. It does, however, come with two noteworthy updates. The medial post has a gentle slope and spreads longer and lower under the arch.
The Revlite midsole foam gets a formulation tweak, and the midfoot no longer has the T-Beam shank. The midsole sidewall is raised on the outer side for increased support.
You’ll also see a brand new upper design on the V6. Gone is the standard mesh; in its place is an engineered knit upper which results in a form-fitting foot wrap.
13) Versatile Trail Runner: New Balance Summit Unknown
When you compare spec-sheets, the Summit K.O.M with its Vibram outsole is the replacement for the excellent Leadville. However, the Summit Unknown is a superior shoe, and that’s why it’s on this list instead of the K.O.M.
It doesn’t have a Vibram outsole but the traction provided by New Balance’s Hydrohesion rubber is great. The aggressive lugs have enough spacing between them to prevent mud and debris from sticking.
The Revlite midsole of the Summit Unknown feels fast to run in. If the shoe feels a bit like the Vazee Summit, that’s because it is the latter’s direct replacement. The upper has a secure fit and a gusset that keeps the debris out. The toe-bumper is reinforced with a thick layer of fused synthetic.
The Summit Unknown uses a just-right amount of Revlite to make the shoe cushioned yet connected with the trail surface. It is very well protected too; the forefoot has a rock plate between the midsole and the outsole. This shoe is like the 1400V6, but for the trail.