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 slew 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.
The Fresh Foam Tempo was Zante reborn, a sign that New Balance was retiring the Zante franchise. The ‘Z’ shoe exists in other categories, as evident from the Zante Trainer.
2020 has been a relatively slow year for New Balance, and that’s understandable considering what’s happening in the world. But there’s still a lot of newness. Take, for example, the FuelCell RC Elite and the TC duo – shoes that are New Balance’s version of the cushioned racer concept with a Carbon plate.
The others are the usual names. You know, like the Beacon, 860, 880, 1400 and all.
Based on what currently exists in New Balance’s assortment, this guide contains solereview’s top dozen picks.
1) Lightweight Neutral Trainer: New Balance FuelCell Prism
The FuelCell Prism is an interesting product, one that struggles to fit cleanly into a specific category. On one hand, the small triangular medial post suggests that the Prism is a mild stability shoe in a lightweight package. You know, like a cushier version of the 1500V6.
However, the Prism is proof that sometimes, things are not as simple as they appear. The FuelCell midsole is relatively soft and cushioned – a trait that is not commonly associated with shoes from the stability category.
There’s plenty of softness available in the all-foam midsole, the kind that enhances comfort and makes the ride character very neutral-like. And the FuelCell Prism should be treated as such.
Think of it as a cushy neutral trainer with just a slight hint of medial-side support. And just like most reliable neutral trainers, the Prism is supportive too. The wide flare of the forefoot and heel create a stable platform for landings.
The outsole also helps make the transitions and roll-offs efficient, thus making the Prism versatile enough for either daily training or higher-paced runs.
The simplicity of the upper design helps keep the weight low (244 gm/8.6 oz) while delivering the levels of interior comfort and fit security necessary for most workouts.
If you’ve been tracking New Balance’s evolution for the past few years, it’ll make sense when we say that the Prism feels like a cross between the Zante and Vazee Pace.
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 a 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 the 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 a lower 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 outsole. The outsole forefoot is made of blown rubber and is split for better articulation and transitions. 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 keeping low-light visibility in mind.
3) Cushioned Neutral Trainer: New Balance Fresh Foam 880 V10
For a very long time, the 880 was based on New Balance’s legacy running shoe template. 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 train 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 has a blown rubber front and an articulated design that enhances ride smoothness and cushioning.
There’s one thing to note when trading the 880V9 for 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 that is well suited for daily runs.
4) Cushioned Neutral Trainer: New Balance Fresh Foam Beacon V3
Some runners view the Beacon as a shoe for faster runs. We don’t – the Fresh Foam Beacon V3 is a lightweight and cushioned trainer capable of most workouts, but there are better shoes for speed runs. For example, the Tempo works better as a pacer, and so does the FuelCell Prism.
The Fresh Foam midsole differs from other New Balance models, thus imparting it with a differentiated ride quality. Instead of a full-coverage outsole, the midsole only has strategically positioned lugs.
This exposed foam layout not only alters the cushioning experience – resulting in a softer ground-strike and transitions – but also makes the Beacon lightweight at a mere 8.2 ounces or 232 grams. The Beacon’s Fresh Foam midsole is noticeably firmer than the say, Fresh Foam used on the 1080.
The ride and transition quality is reminiscent of the Skechers GoRun (the older EVA foam-based models, not the Hyperburst) series. The 6 mm drop midsole offers a good transition economy as well.
The fit is snug inside the gusseted upper, and the sizing runs slightly short. As is the norm, New Balance offers two widths.
The Beacon’s upper also comes with a flared heel that has evoked polarizing reactions from runners. Of late, the heel design has been a contentious issue on several New Balance shoes. It works for some, and doesn’t for others.
5) Max-Cushion Trainer: New Balance Fresh Foam 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 the highest 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 split outsole also dials up the cushioning and makes the loading process smoother. The forefoot outsole complements the midsole with a softer rubber.
Sizing fits true inside the softly knit upper; the 1080V10 comes in four widths should you want a wider or narrower fit. In its standard width, there’s a generous amount of toe-box room.
6) 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.
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 one needs to watch 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.
7) Traditional motion-control: New Balance Fresh Foam 860 V11
The New Balance 860 is becoming less 860-ish with every passing year. Not very long ago, the 860 used to be a fully-fledged stability shoe with a large medial post and the works.
Today? Not so much. The 2020 New Balance 860 gets a Fresh Foam infusion and a firmer foam wedge that’s barely noticeable.
The 860V11 is, without doubt, the most neutral of all the versions to date. We don’t say this negatively; the Fresh Foam midsole does a great job of balancing cushioning and stability to make the ride versatile.
Even with a cushioning character that is biased slightly towards the outer side, the 860 will appeal to most runners who are looking for a supportive and comfortable daily trainer. You won’t get the pronounced motion-control behavior of the older models, that’s all.
New Balance doesn’t skimp on outsole rubber, so the generous coverage elevates the traction levels as well as the durability.
The upper holds no surprises except for the flared heel design. The interiors are smooth and secure the foot in place; the outwards flaring heel takes some time getting used to.
8) Max Stability: New Balance 1540 V3
The 1540 V3 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 is 15-ounce heavy, 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. This is stable as it gets.
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. The standard ‘D’ width runs narrower than regular running shoes.
9) Lightweight long-distance racer: New Balance FuelCell RC Elite
Oh, how times have changed. As recently as five years ago, a road racing shoe automatically translated into a racing flat with minimal cushioning. Then came Nike and turned conventional wisdom on its head.
The Vaporfly demonstrated that a racing shoe could be supremely cushioned and springy, and long-distance speed runs should not come at the cost of punishing the foot.
Fast forward two years, and every brand worth its trademark have their version of a Carbon-plate-in-a-cushy-core shoe. The good news is that most of the products are serious performers, the New Balance FuelCell RC Elite included.
The RC Elite also has most of the characteristics that define this new breed of racers. The FuelCell (an EVA-TPU blend) midsole has ample cushioning to make high-mileage runs comfortable. At the same time, it’s responsive and ‘fast’ enough, thanks to the embedded Carbon plate and the inherent bounciness of the FuelCell foam.
One thing that sets the RC Elite apart from the rest is its outsole. Most of the midfoot and forefoot uses an evolved version of the dual-stencil race outsole. A small colony of aggressive lugs is fused to a TPU sheet, thus giving the Elite an exceptional grip advantage. In the past, New Balance has used this on shoes like the Hanzo.
The spacer mesh upper is breezy, relatively roomy for a racer, and manages to deliver a certain level of interior plushness. Fused overlays add structural support without adding weight.
Like the other shoes in the carbon-plated universe, the RC Elite doesn’t come cheap. It retails for $225, but there’s a lot one gets for the price.
Also see: Fuelcell TC EnergyStreak.
10) 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 yet comfortable, 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 racing ‘flat’ choice.
11) 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.
12) Versatile Trail Runner: New Balance Summit Unknown
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.
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.