Color: Grey/Orange Flash
Hoka's marketing pitch: Updated upper with a focus on lightweight comfort.
Surfaces tested on: Road, ambient temperature of 21° C/70° F.
Upper: Mesh, no-sew overlays.
Midsole: Single density compression molded EVA midsole. 5 mm heel to toe offset.
Outsole: Carbon rubber under heel and forefoot, exposed EVA foam.
Weight: 271 gms/ 9.5 Oz for a half pair of US11/UK 10.5/EUR 45.3/CM 29.
Widths available: Single - standard (reviewed)
The original 2014 Hoka Clifton was truly a unique product. Where lesser neutral cushioning shoes would bog you down with their softness, the ultra cushioned Clifton did quite the reverse – it could potentially better your pace, or at the very least, have zero negative impact on your speed. Which was truly remarkable, considering the level of travel or compression the chunky midsole had to offer.
In retrospect, the Clifton’s superlative feel on the road was a combination of many things meshing well together. A minimally constructed, racing flat kind of upper kept distraction levels at a minimum while keeping the foot well ventilated. This design approach allowed the Clifton to maintain a very low weight, and even for a largish US 11, the shoe weighed just 8 oz/239 grams, far below the industry threshold for this category.
That no-frills upper was glued on to a single density EVA midsole which felt resilient and cushioned without a trace of mush. The prominently rockered midsole encouraged quick transitions, which undoubtedly played a part in contributing to the fast feel.
The shoe wasn’t without its shares of flaws. There were a few areas of complaints, like a narrow forefoot or the noticeable lacing top-down pressure near the tongue top. Yet, all was forgiven once you started running in the Clifton; the sheer brilliance of the ride eclipsed these minor irritants. It also helped that the Clifton retailed at $130, significantly undercutting the rest of the exorbitantly priced Hokas.
If a shoe was to be credited with giving the strangely named footwear brand a stimulus in retail sales, it would most certainly be the Clifton. The introductory 2014 version sold to universal acclaim, and we heaped plaudits on it in our review last year.
So here comes the tricky part, an annual ritual which most existing owners anticipate with a sense of uneasy foreboding. How does one go about updating a shoe like the Clifton, without alienating hordes of new Hoka converts?
Sometimes, the brands get this process right. They’ll keep the essence of the product undisturbed, while infusing updates which serve as incremental improvements. The second scenario is where the outcome turns out to be somewhat undesirable.
The brand will tinker with the core character of the shoe, sugar coating the changes as ‘refinements’. In other words, the new shoe strays away from what made it much liked in the first place to begin with.
Unfortunately, the Hoka Clifton 2 ends up being a case study of what not to do when refreshing a popular shoe. And our point of view is based on two things, which you’re free to take with a grain of salt, as your viewpoint might differ:
1) A change in the shoe’s core personality.
2) The shoe’s ability to differentiate itself from the rest of Hoka’s oversized cushioning assortment.
And just how has the Hoka Clifton 2 changed? Let’s rattle off the quick list of update areas. The midsole has become firmer, which is at odds with Hoka’s claim of ‘keeping the industry leading ride unchanged’.
The upper gets a new padded tongue, the collar area feels different, the toe-box design goes under the proverbial scalpel, and finally, all these changes add up to substantially bump the new Clifton’s weight up by no less than a full ounce for a half-pair of US 11.
This also means that the Clifton 2’s place in the Hoka line-up has changed, and the segmentation that was once very clear is now blurred. If you’re a running shoe geek hoarding multiple pairs in your closet – and perchance the Saucony Kinvara happens to be one of them – then the latter’s evolution is an apt analogy to refer to.
The Hoka Clifton refresh is akin to the Kinvara’s update history, or more specifically, the difference in character between a Kinvara 3 and Kinvara 5. The newer Kinvaras softened up the ride, and transformed their once minimal uppers to something more built up. While many appreciated the ‘improved’ ride and the supportive upper, the core persona of the older Kinvara was lost forever.
In the same spirit of things, many will respond positively to the Clifton 2’s firmer ride and structural additions on its upper. Particularly runners who found the original Clifton too soft, and the flat tongue too thin. Ok, we’ll come to the upper in a moment, let’s park it for now. The ride quality merits a discussion of its own.
The past year, we’ve sampled different Hoka flavors, namely the Clifton, Vanquish (presumably a stand-in for the Conquest too), Bondi 4 (tested but not reviewed) and the Constant. All of these models were adequately differentiated from one another; the Clifton was the softest and lightest, while the Bondi 4 had deeper cushioning with a more built-up upper.
The supportive Constant lay somewhere between the Bondi 4 and Vanquish in cushioning softness while offering a roomy upper. The Vanquish was the firmest of the lot, and like the Bondi 4, came with a narrow toe-box. It was almost as if you could mentally place these models in different boxes, or at the very least, separated by well demarcated lines representing what each of these models stood for.
So when the Clifton 2 turns out to be a firmer Clifton with a noticeably bulkier upper, that sense of distinction gets diluted. The new version gets a design nudge which displaces the Clifton from its original place, and pushes it closer towards Bondi territory.
As far as the actual midsole aesthetic is concerned, nothing has changed. The Clifton’s midsole design mirrors the one used on the Clifton OG, a single density slab of compression molded EVA (Ethylene Vinyl Acetate) foam with slanted grooves accentuated by black paint.
The carry-over sole design nonetheless, changes happen in three different areas, influencing the Clifton’s ride in a few ways. Firstly, the foam is firmed up, and hence the bounciness of EVA you felt on the Clifton 2 drops a couple of notches.
Next up, the drop-in footbed gets swapped on the Clifton 2, which now comes with a much thicker Ortholite insole. This update impacts the ride behavior as well, as the thicker foam insulates the feedback from the EVA midsole.
And the third update actually involves the heel spring or rocker angle. Now this could be a manufacturing anomaly, but we’re going by the experience had on our pair.
When put side-by-side, the Clifton 2’s midsole heel does not curl upwards as much as the 2014 model did. In other words, the rockered effect is toned down on the Clifton 2. Does it affect the ride? We believe it does, and we’ll explain how during the ride break-out.
The new Ortholite insole is much cushier than both the existing variants of Hoka sockliners – the pancake flat Ortholite seen on the Vanquish/Bondi, and the compression molded EVA version which came supplied with the original Clifton.
However, the increased footbed cushioning isn’t compensation enough for the noticeably firmer midsole, so the net outcome still remains unswayed, in the form of a firmer ride than the Clifton 1.
But the new insole isn’t perfect. The edge thickness isn’t consistent around its circumference, with the forefoot area having a thick edge, and this progressively thins out towards the arch area. The edge which comes in contact with the forward arch is molded thinner, and hence is considerably harder (higher density) than the forefoot edge.
Also worth noting is that the Clifton midsole has a pre-existing pressure spot, but this was a non-issue on the original Clifton. Because the foam was softer, and so was the white EVA insole atop it. The Clifton 1 insole also came with its own bugs, like excess material around its edges creasing around the heel area, but it wasn’t bad enough to halt a run.
Our experience with the Clifton 2’s insole went something like this – the difference in footbed edge resulted in a small blister after a few miles. The discomfort was partially alleviated by changing the position of the insole within the shoe, moving the molded edge away from the upper.
But the sense of irritation lingered on, and ultimately the new ‘improved insole’ had to be swapped with the subtler EVA footbed of the Clifton 1. The new insole might prove to be an issue on your pair, or might not be; but this is a heads-up, just in case.
This reinforces our impression that Hoka does not pay as much attention to the finer aspects nor concerned with the pursuit of applying footwear design best practices. As a result, most of their shoes feel like examples of work-in-progress. They really need to shed this mindset, because this holds the brand back from achieving greater heights. Far better things are expected of a product line which is retailed at $130 upwards.
If they’re working behind the scenes to fix this, great. But so far the evidence of an corrective mindset eludes its finished products. We’re hopeful this will change.
As a long distance muncher, the Clifton 2 gets the job done well. The midsole packs in mighty gobs of cushioning, and has the trademark Hoka depth of ride. The midsole is also responsive, only less bouncy than before.
Except that the Clifton 2 feels a bit slower than the C-1, which was a bit surprising since a firmer midsole usually achieves the exact opposite. And here’s why we think it is so.
The main culprit is the Clifton 2’s massive weight increase. It gains a full ounce (32 grams) over last year’s Clifton, and for something in that weight category, the degree of weight gap is huge. For a US 11, the new Clifton is now 271 grams, hugely bulked up over 239 grams of the Clifton 1. A shoe skirting on the 300 gram border will feel different than a 239 gram shoe, no matter what your personal take on a shoe is.
We also see the Clifton 2’s relative slowness to be brought upon by the difference in the heel rocker angle. As the Clifton’s 2 heel has a lower bevel, the ground contact area is marginally lengthened, and possibly impacting transition quality.
The new upper also comes with additional structural reinforcements, which apart from increasing weight, makes the Clifton feel like more of a shoe during runs. The toe area design moves away from the simple synthetic-leather-bumper format, and adopts what’s more common on the other Hokas.
The entire toe-box is made of this stiffer, molded material seen on shoes such as the Vanquish and Bondi 4. In the process, the toe-box becomes a bit pointier, and earlier Hoka Clifton users will miss the independence of movement afforded by the previous toe-box design.
Come to the midfoot, and there’s a major update on the Clifton 2. The thin tongue with its scooped flap is replaced by a conventional, foam filled tongue – again, a design approach fashioned in the style of other maximal Hoka models.
The lacing style also goes from round to flat, and there’s an additional row of eyelet punched in for heel lock lacing.
Back on the heel, things firm up a little. The softer synthetic leather employed by the 2014 Clifton is substituted by a harder, no-sew overlay which ends just below the foam lining on the outside.
You have the familiar pull tab, and some newly introduced decorative texture adorns sides of the heel, and topped off by a new reflective Hoka bird logo.
And the results of all these updates? Ok, the one thing which really matters hasn’t changed, and that’s Hoka’s much talked about, narrow forefoot fit.
The upper still retains that pressure hot spot over the small/pinky toe, and moreover, the toe-box’s vertical height gets reduced when compared to the 2014 model.
The picture here shows the difference between the highest points on the toe-box across both the models. It is pretty evident what the new toe design ends up accomplishing on the Clifton 2 (right). The molded construction lowers the point where the toe box meets the forefoot mesh area, and restricts the amount of space available there.
Ok, the tongue design of the 2014 Clifton had its shortcomings. It was very thin, which meant it let a lot of the lacing pressure though. The material used was also wonky, bleeding colors on the socks and leaving behind a shape resembling a superhero logo. This proved to be more of an issue if there was sweat involved.
Hoka threw that design out, and brought in the padded tongue this year, with the obvious intent of reducing lacing pressure. So things should be all good now, correct?
Wrong. A solution only works if it is one, and the new component swap presents problems unique to the Clifton 2. The new tongue is a much bulkier, multi-layered component with one significant change. Instead of the soft, scooped flap of the Clifton 1 tongue, the revised tongue fills that portion with a stiffer composite of synthetic Nubuck and mesh.
The firmer flap feels more intrusive, as it bears down on the skin with greater intensity than before. It does not however, result in any kind of irritation as did the Vanquish . In addition, a few more changes in upper fit come with the package.
With the thick tongue, the lacing area broadens up . Plainly explained, there’s a wider gap between either sides of the lacing, and this typically increases lacing pressure as opposed to a narrower lacing structure. And that does happen. You feel the tongue as a separate component from the rest of the upper, relative to the more cohesive nature of the Clifton 2 upper.
A wider lacing gap also encourages tongue slide, something which wasn’t felt on the 2014 Clifton – simply because the opposing midfoot panels almost touched one another. The padded tongue design also impacts midfoot grip on the sides. With the tongue being significantly thicker than the thin midfoot side panels, there’s a gap where the tongue underlays the upper sides.
This causes an interruption in the flow of the internal midfoot fit. While the upper still grips well, it misses the seamless feel of the Clifton 1. Not to mention that the new Clifton now actually needs an upper break-in period compared to the broken in feel of the 2014 Clifton. And we haven’t even started on the heel design.
By replacing the pliable synthetic of the original Clifton with a fancy stitch less overlay, the collar edges get much firmer, necessitating the shoe to be broken in.
The Achilles drip also feels different, a consequence of a) increased foam padding, and b) the soft synthetic is replaced by the new harder material.
In short, the new Clifton 2 upper feels like more of a shoe during runs, moving away from the less-of-a-shoe feel which the Clifton 1 had. All Hoka had to do was to only pad the top of the tongue, referring to the Kinvara 4, adios 2 Boost and Zoom Streak 5’s tongue design. The added layering also decreases ventilation, and the new Clifton feels warmer to run in than its predecessor. A comparative picture (above) of the interior helps understand this better.
Small things matter, especially on the Clifton which is meant to go the long haul. You want an upper quick to break-in, and deliver a distraction free experience during the course of your run. Weight is a key element to achieving a sense of fast over distance, and so physical bulk has to be kept under control.
So if we had to choose sides, we’d hop over to the 2014 Clifton 1 territory, never mind its idiosyncratic quirks like a thin and color transferring tongue. And we have a feeling that a lot of existing Clifton (2014) owners would take the same call, provided everyone is aware of the changes afoot.
The 2015 Clifton 2 is very cushioned, responsive and for the most part, still a lot of fun on the road. And if your first Clifton happens to be the latest 2015 model, chances are that you’ll find much to like.
But that’s not the point, is it?
(Disclaimer: For this review, Solereview bought the shoe at full US retail price.)
Looking to upgrade your older Hoka Clifton to the latest version, but not sure how the 2015 model compares? We can help here. The following infographic is a ready-reckoner for what changes you might expect in the new model vs. old. To make this more fun, we’ve put in a system of percentage match, which calculates a weighted average for a set of attributes.
A higher or lower match percentage is neither good or bad. The % number just tells you how similar or distanced the new shoe is from the previous version. Total match % is a result of weighted averages.