Except for the surprise release of the FuelCell Rebel V2 last year, New Balance has been relatively quiet. Who knows, maybe this is a lull phase before the deluge of new models in 2022? Your guess is good as ours.
From Solereview’s perspective, the New Balance catalog is full of familiar shoes with minor updates. You know, models like 880, 1080, and 860.
Among the other noteworthy updates are the Vongo V5 and RC Elite V2. The redesigned Vongo V5 gets a medial post for the first time, and the RC Elite acquires a higher-volume midsole and upper.
We have dropped the 1400V6 and 1500V6 from this guide, as New Balance no longer lists them on its website. This could be a strategic decision or because of an ongoing supply chain issue – we don’t know yet.
The state of the New Balance running line isn’t exciting at the moment, but their lifestyle sneaker business is booming. For example, you must have seen the 327 sneaker everywhere.
In an interesting turn of events, brands like New Balance, ON, and even Salomon have their foot in the door of the fashion industry. Yes, Salomon – have you even seen their white-on-white XT-6?
Based on what currently exists in New Balance’s assortment, this guide contains Solereview’s top 9 picks. Instead of grouping the shoes by their categories, we’ve prefixed the shoe name with their recommended use-cases.
1) Cushioned neutral trainer: New Balance Fresh Foam X 1080 V12
The 1080 series has long been New Balance’s top-tier neutral cushioning shoe, similar to how the Glycerin is positioned within Brooks’s hierarchy of running shoes.
One could argue that the New Balance Fresh Foam More V3 is more deserving of that spot. In our opinion, the 1080 does a better job at delivering a balanced cushioning experience.
Given the Fresh Foam midsole’s soft cushioning depth, the 1080 isn’t best used for speed runs, but rather as a high-mileage cruiser. Learn more about the 1080V12 in our detailed review.
Not only does the high-volume Fresh Foam midsole deliver what it promises – a superbly cushioned ride – but the split outsole also makes the loading process smoother. The soft, blown rubber under the forefoot complements the midsole cushioning.
The soft knit upper fits true to size, and the 1080V12 sells in four widths for a custom level of fit. A thick, removable insole provides the top layer of step-in softness.
In its standard width, the upper is snug yet accommodates most regular-shaped feet due to its stretchy mesh. The 1080 V12 is also equipped with a generous amount of reflectivity.
2) Cushioned Neutral Trainer: New Balance Fresh Foam X 880 V12
The 880 series may have transitioned to a Fresh Foam midsole, but under the seemingly new exterior is a familiar cushioning character and upper fit. The 880V11 felt like a ‘traditional’ neutral trainer, and so does the 880V12.
Even though the new midsole features a re-arranged foam stack, the ride doesn’t feel brand new.
What you get is a relatively conventional cushioning experience that’s neither too soft nor too firm. This kind of midsole is excellent for everyday use due to its optimal blend of cushioning and support. The Fresh Foam X appears to be an EVA foam-blend, so it’s not particularly responsive or soft.
The outsole integrates a blown rubber forefoot and an articulated design that enhances the ride smoothness and cushioning.
The one-piece mesh exterior delivers a smooth and secure fit, but the tongue still lacks a sleeve. New Balance sells the 880 in four widths for runners with different foot profiles.
3) Lightweight Neutral Trainer: New Balance FuelCell Rebel V2
Looking back, the Fuelcell Rebel V1 had a rather odd design. It seemed as if everything was loaded under the forefoot – be it the firmer foam insert or ultra-wide midsole geometry. A lot was going on with the upper too.
The Rebel V2 is nothing of that kind. It shares the Rebel 1’s name, but using without any of its parts. Our review dives deep into the inner workings of this shoe.
We’ll get to the upper in a bit, but the headlining act of the Rebel V2 is its midsole. The new midsole foam is the same as what the high-performance RC Elite and Fuelcell TC uses – the EVA-TPU blend foam is soft, bouncy, and therefore, propulsive.
The inherent springiness of the Fuelcell foam makes it ideal for cushioned tempo runs, whereas the softness makes daily runs enjoyable. The Rebel V2 is incredibly lightweight too; this shoe weighs a mere 7.2-ounces or 204 grams.
Though the upper fits small (meaning you need to buy a half size larger), the lightweight upper is extremely breathable and secure. The soft tongue and heel lining add a lot of plushness.
There are a couple of downsides to owning the Rebel. There are reports of sub-par durability, and the midfoot is lacking in support. Luckily, the Fuelcell Rebel V3 has a completely redesigned upper that is (hopefully) more durable.
4) Traditional stability trainer: New Balance Fresh Foam 860 V12
The New Balance 860 is turning 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. Last year, the New Balance 860V11 got a Fresh Foam infusion and a firmer foam wedge that was barely noticeable.
Even with a cushioning character that is biased slightly towards the outer side, the 860 V12 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 the outsole rubber, so the generous coverage elevates the traction levels as well as the durability. The V12 uses the same sole as the V11, so nothing has changed on the firm midsole.
Even with the identical ride, we’d choose the V12 over the V11 due to the redesigned upper.
Not only does the 860V12 get rid of the flared heel design, but it also simplifies the exterior by switching to a single-piece mesh with embroidery. This makes the V12’s upper a much better place to be in – the fit is smooth and secure. Besides the standard width, New Balance sells the 860 in a narrow, wide, and extra-wide as well.
5) Lightweight Neutral Trainer: New Balance Fresh Foam Tempo X V2
The word ‘Zante’ is missing in this shoe’s name, but the Fresh Foam Tempo 2 is very much a reincarnation of the grand Z.
The tell-tale signs are all there. Take, for instance, the 6 mm drop midsole with a similar softness as the Zante. Or the minimal sleeved upper that provides a distraction-free fit experience. Even the retail price is the same as the Zante OG.
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. If you liked the previous version of the Tempo, chances are, you’ll like the Tempo X V2 as well. The ride feels more lively, and the interior comfort has been improved – thanks to the new stretch upper.
6) Traditional stability trainer: New Balance Fresh Foam Vongo V5
Till the V4, the Foam Vongo used to be a unique spin on the stability shoe concept. Instead of a medial post, a deep groove split the outsole into two halves. That made the ride stable by keeping the weight centered.
For reasons best known to New Balance, the V5 abandons the Vongo form factor. With its large medial post, the Vongo V5 is now a conventional stability shoe.
If you ask us, perhaps New Balance wants to turn the Vongo into a modern version of the 1260?
That line of reasoning makes sense. The 1260 no longer exists, so why not make Vongo a cushier version of the 860V12?
And the Vongo surely is cushy. The firmer medial post is part of a high-volume Fresh Foam X midsole.
From a performance point of view, the Vongo V5 has deep yet supportive cushioning for everyday training and long-distance runs alike. The blown rubber outsole helps cushion the landings and transitions.
Like the neutral 1080V11, the Vongo’s knit upper secures the foot in plush and accommodating softness.
And we’re happy to report that New Balance no longer uses the strange-looking heel design here – just a padded collar that provides a comfortable heel grip.
7) Max Stability: New Balance 1540 V3
The 1540 V3 is a borderline orthopedic shoe, and somewhat of a throwback to New Balance’s roots. 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, so that means all weight considerations are tossed out of the window.
And yet, if you want supreme stability at a price, look no further than the 1540. Not only does the midsole have a medial post, but it also has a TPU roll-bar that cups and wraps under the rearfoot. The stiff midsole is based on a wide foundation that’s beneficial for stability. As a result, the 1540 has zero roll or bias; this is stable as it gets.
The 1540 is offered in 5 widths – that’s virtually unheard of. The reinforced upper with its stitched bumper and panels are form-fitting so the optional widths allow for a custom fit. The standard ‘D’ width runs narrower than regular running shoes.
8) Lightweight long-distance racer: New Balance FuelCell RC Elite 2
The times have surely changed. As recently as five years ago, a road racing shoe implied a racing flat with minimal cushioning. Then came Nike and turned conventional wisdom on its head.
The Vaporfly 4% 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.
Today, every brand worth its logo have their version of a Carbon-plate-in-a-cushy-core shoe. The good news is that most of the products are serious performers – including the New Balance FuelCell RC Elite V2.
The RC Elite also has all the characteristics that define this new breed of racers. The FuelCell midsole has ample cushioning to make marathon-level exertions less punishing on the feet.
At the same time, it’s responsive and ‘fast’ enough due to the embedded Carbon plate and inherent bounciness of the FuelCell (EVA+TPU blended) foam.
It’s worth mentioning that there are significant changes between the RC Elite V1 and V2. The midsole stack heights are much higher than the V1, so there’s a corresponding increase in cushioning depth.
Not everything is an upgrade from the RC Elite V1. The V2’s outsole loses the ‘Dynaride’ outsole – an evolved version of the dual-stencil race outsole. The RC Elite V1’s had a colony of aggressive lugs mounted over a TPU sheet for an exceptional grip advantage.
The V2’s upper is more spacious and breathes better than the V1. The V2’s laces begin at the midfoot area instead of the forefoot – as the V1 did. In other words, most of the forefoot fit is not affected by the lacing wrap. The mesh also has larger pores, so that helps with the ventilation and toe-splay room.
Even with the deconstructed build, the RC Elite V2’s upper isn’t lacking in interior comfort. The non-padded tongue is soft and irritation-free, and the padded heel adds a touch of plushness to the otherwise minimal upper. Fused overlays add structural support without adding weight.
Like the other shoes in the carbon-plated universe, the RC Elite V2 is pricey. It retails for $225, but there’s a lot one gets for that price.
9) Cushioned Trail Runner: New Balance Fresh Foam Hierro V7
Surprisingly, New Balance doesn’t have a versatile trail running shoe at the time of writing this guide. You know, a product like the discontinued Leadville that is the off-road equivalent of a do-everything road running shoe. In other brands, it would be trail shoes like the Saucony Peregrine or Brooks Cascadia.
For now, runners looking for a capable trail runner from New Balance would have to settle for the Fresh Foam Hierro V7. Its thick foam stack and 12-ounce weight dilutes the versatility, but it does a few things very well.
The Hierro V7’s value proposition is similar to the Nike Pegasus Trail – which is being a comfortable and protective road-trail hybrid.
The Fresh Foam X midsole is excellent for distance trail runs as well as protecting the foot on uneven terrain. Though there’s no rock plate, the Vibram outsole and midsole create a cushioned barrier between the foot and the trail.
The upper is appropriately designed to match the non-hardcore nature of the Hierro V6. There’s not a great deal of protection on the sleeved upper; just some abrasion-resistant TPU threading over the toe-box and midfoot.
Also see: Arishi Trail – a low-profile trail running shoe with a better ground feel than the Hierro.