Saucony's marketing pitch: Seek and you shall fly.
Surfaces tested on: Road, ambient temperature of 22° C/71° F
Upper: Soft mesh, synthetic leather, Urethane overlays.
Midsole: Injection molded EVA foam, heel to midfoot Powergrid foam insert, 4 mm heel to toe drop.
Outsole: Hard carbon rubber in heel, softer blown rubber in forefoot.
Weight: 245 gms/ 8.6 Oz for a half pair of US11/UK 10/EUR 45
Widths available: Single, medium (reviewed).
US MSRP: $ 100
For this review, let’s invent an imaginary couple and name them Bill and Amy. The year is 2012, and they decide to take a two year break and see a bit of the world. They plan to go to Asia, and soak in the sights and sounds of places like Indonesia, Vietnam, Cambodia, India and Hong Kong. Maybe some China too, time and money allowing. They were thinking of doing this since long, and now it was good a time as any.
So off they go, after months of careful planning. They love to run, so they buy a couple of brand new pairs, knowing that these countries might not stock their favorite shoe model, which so happened to be the Kinvara 3.
Bill and Amy have a great time. They relax in serene Bali, marvel at the gridlocked traffic of Jakarta, discover delicious Vietnamese cuisine, fall in love with Angkor Vat, ride a train with open windows across the Indian landscape, and take in Hong Kong’s night skyline from their hotel room.
They also make it to China, where among other places, they travel far North-East to the beautiful city of Qingdao, and sip chilled beers of the same name while admiring the German architecture alongside the ocean walkway.
They also keep up with their running. The trusty Kinvara 3 serves Bill and Amy well. Its midsole blends in soft and firmness well, its heel-only Powergrid delivering cushioning within the boundaries of a stiff midsole.
Be it two miles along Mumbai’s Marine Drive in India, or a tenner inside the park on Hong Kong island, it makes short work of daily runs. Some of the ‘Flexfilm’ overlays start peeling, but nothing major.
Unfortunately, since Bill and Amy are forefoot strikers, after a year the Kinvara 3’s outsole is all worn out in the front, lacking in grip on wet pavement.
Luckily for them, they come across the newly launched 2013 Kinvara 4 in a Shanghai shop, which sees our friends through for another year. They like the Kinvara 4 too. Except for the upper change, it came with the familiar snappy ride of the K-3 which appealed to them so much.
All good things must come to an end, and Bill and Amy return stateside in 2014. Their Kinvara 4’s are absolutely trashed by now, so they go to their local running store and get a new pair of 5’s.
The shoe feels different when worn on the shop floor, but our Kinvara hugging brave-hearts don’t read much into it. They assume that it is going to end up feeling similar to the Kinvara 4, just in the way the K4 echoed the 3.
But after just 30 miles, they find out that the Kinvara 5 is worlds apart. First of all, the midsole is softer than before. The density seems to have changed, and there’s more splaying due to the deeper outsole groove below.
The upper on the other hand, feels more ‘built-up’. There is a newfangled thing called the ‘Prolock’, a pair of wide straps clasping either sides of the midfoot. The full length sleeve of the Kinvara 4 is gone now, and in its place is a gusset which limits itself to wrapping only the midfoot.
Their go-to shoe model now off the shelves, Bill and Amy are now in despair. Their local running store organises weekly runs, so our friends lament the demise of the ‘old Kinvara feel’. However, they are surprised (and somewhat dismayed) to find out that many other runners absolutely love the Kinvara 5.
The newly infused softness is much appreciated by many, and so is the relatively spacious forefoot fit. Everyone seems to like softer shoes now; there is a new kid in town called Hoka One One, and many brands have succumbed to taking a sip of Hoka Cola’s sweet, foamy softness, including Saucony.
Crestfallen, Bill and Amy start their search for a new shoe, and since they have heard so much about Hoka, they try on a few models. They don’t find the ‘maximal’ models appealing, but take a liking to the firmer Huaka, and settle for that model. They still run in the Kinvara 5, but it is no longer their favorite.
The moral of this whole story is – Saucony just lost two of their old Kinvara faithfuls.
But then, that’s always been the thing with running shoes. While Bill and Amy might have rejected the new Kinvara, many others – including long time Kinvara credit card swipers – will embrace the slew of changes. Polarizing opinions are part and parcel of running shoe releases, and whether a model is good or bad ends up being very, very subjective.
This is the same reason why many might not agree with the viewpoint in our reviews here – for the simple reason that everyone looks at shoes through a different tint of glasses.
This also indicates that the current trend of softened Kinvaras – namely v5 and v6 – might be transient, and who knows, the 2016 Kinvara 7 could mark the return of midsole firmness and upper minimalism. That will lead to another churn of Kinvara like’s and like nots, followed by a contradicting mix of much grumbling and praise. Such is the way the cookie crumbles.
The hero of this review however, is not the tale of Bill and Amy’s adventure, nor the previous Kinvara avatars, but the 2015 Kinvara 6. What newness does this update usher in?
Saucony, like many other brands, follows the tradition of biennial midsole updates. This means that their upper changes once a year, and the midsole/outsole combo every two. Within the running shoe industry, two notable exceptions are Brooks and Asics, who offer the norm of a complete annual upgrade for most of their popular models.
The Kinvara got a grandiose redesign last year, so as expected, 2015 is the time for an upper-only change while keeping the lower foundations intact. In that sense, while the Kinvara 5 fades away into sunset, its successor is heavy in design and function residue.
But as we’ve seen first hand very recently, even minute tinkering can lead a shoe down a slightly different path as far as upper fit is concerned, and the same can be said of the Kinvara 6.
First, let’s pick up where we left off, a refresher of sorts. The Kinvara 5 packed a couple of new things when it was launched, namely a softer-than-K4/K3 midsole and the ‘Pro-lock’ midfoot cinching system with a half-sleeve.
Back then it did not make sense, the ‘Pro-lock’ strap. But in hindset, when you factor in subsequent Triumph, Hurricane and Zealot ISOFIT rollouts, the reason behind introducing ‘Prolock’ becomes crystal clear.
You see, all brands take their ‘common design language’ philosophy very seriously. Which means that the powers-that-be decide on a unifying design or feature theme, and then that mandate percolates down the entire product line for a few years until it is replaced by something new and marketable.
In this particular example, Saucony’s newfound enthusiasm is directed towards snugger midfoot clasping – the ISOFIT being an embodiment of that ideal – and that cascades downstream to other models, either in function or visual detail.
Never mind the fact that a midfoot strap on a Kinvara is deemed gratuitous; what’s more important is total compliance with, and complete submission to the higher power of Saucony’s ‘one-design’ spirit.
Considering that context, the Kinvara 6’s Prolock can construed as the poor man’s ISOFIT, a watered-down version featuring a single independent midfoot panel instead of the entire floating cage.
But then, what’s a running shoe model update minus any change? That would be totally counter-intuitive, so enter the revised upper midfoot of the Kinvara 6.
The midfoot strap has moved forward, a little further away from the tongue edge. In the last version (K5), the eyelets at the tip of the Prolock strap was aligned with the synthetic band on the tongue (with the ‘Prolock’ text written across).
The Kinvara 6 drives some distance between the two, so the eyelets close in on the foot a little ahead of the band.
But we deem the most important change to be the one which takes place inside the shoe. The internal half-sleeve of the Kinvara 6 is longer, extending further towards the forefoot than the Kinvara 5 ever did.
There’s a catch, though. This span increase applies more to the lateral (outer) side of the upper than the inner (medial) side, where the sleeving position isn’t all that different.
The result is a tighter upper, most of which is concentrated around the midfoot, with some spillover to the forefoot. Runners trading their Kinvara 5 for a 6 will feel this difference in fit, and that’s not the end of it.
The forefoot fit stays mostly unaltered, except for some increase of upper pressure at the base of the small toe. What has changed is toe box height, which on the Kinvara 6 is one which affords more vertical room near the shoe tip.
Flexfilm, the now Kinvara ubiquity in its fourth edition (Kinvara 3 was the first), forms the outer shell of the upper. It has changed from last year, shape shifting to a thicker layer instead of the melted-on feel of the K5’s Flexfilm.
The patterns are also thicker instead of the sinewy strips we last saw on Kinvara 5, and this makes the eyelet panel much thicker than Kinvara 5’s.
The stitch-less overlay around the toe bumper is higher and slightly raised upwards at the very tip. This steers the Kinvara 6’s toe box from the flatter profile of 2014 to a more rounded and spacious one. So there you have it; a contrasting combination of a tighter midfoot-early-forefoot and a more relaxed toe box.
Sizing stays true across both versions of the Kinvara, but runners with wide feet would do well to buy the older (and now cheaper) Kinvara 5 instead. For the popular Kinvara still continues to be peddled minus the option of widths. Surprising, given that it is now one of Saucony’s most commercial products.
Kinvara 5’s mesh was faux dual layered, a bonded combination of two fabric types. That has changed to a simpler format in 2015, a spacer fabric variety which looks and feels visually singular in layering.
We found the Kinvara 5’s inner environs to be more airy, and yes, the older construction allowed more air to pass through. Adding to that, what actually carries more weight in the ventilation department is the way the midfoot panels have been redesigned.
The window of open net-mesh over the Prolock strap on either sides has been dramatically reduced in area this year. While you could see the near-entirety of the Prolock panel from outside the Kinvara 5, that has been reduced to a mere glimpse on the K6. Perhaps this is another reason why the midfoot feels tighter, alongside a sensation of increased top-down lacing pressure.
By using thicker Flex-Film and a larger sleeve, the weight inches upwards a bit. It is 5 grams or 0.1 ounce heavier than Kinvara 5, which by the way, was heavier than the Kinvara 4 by the same margin. Naturally, this is just an attempt to state the empirical obvious, for none of this moves the needle in real world performance.
Some parts and design elements are pinched over from the Kinvara 5, like the pairing of the lateral molded logo and a printed version medially, or the use of identical ‘Rundry’ collar and tongue lining.
Ok, there is a bit of a design shuffle on the tongue. The Kinvara 6’s tongue loses some padding and the Pikachu eared tongue flaps, turning it into a leaner version of its previous form.
The upper heel is virtually unchanged. The level of fit is unchanged, and the foam padding intact. The structure is semi-rigid, by way of an internal heel counter which goes up only-halfway. The collar grips around in a relaxed way, a far cry from the narrower, focused feel of Kinvara 4’s heel. Memory foam pockets, remember?
What’s new is the amount of low-light visibility bits, which sees an upside on the Kinvara 6.
The reflective inserts on the lateral midsole, the outsole and tongue tip are exactly in the same places where Kinvara 5 left it.
An addition has been made on the upper heel, where a vertical strip contributes to extra visibility at night. All of these are fully reflective, no ‘faux’ or ’semi’ stuff here. Featuring adequate amount of reflective elements is an area where Saucony has traditionally been diligent at.
Are there any upper flaws to speak of? We’re not a fan of the half-sleeve, because it adds inconsistency to what could been a seam-free interior. It is attached flush with the collar lining, using flat-lock stitching to join itself. But the front isn’t, which means that the edges are rounded off with an additional layer of thin fabric seen in the picture here.
Since the edges don’t lie flush with rest of the lining, this creates a small bump on either sides. It feels like an excess fold in your socks which needs straightening out. Unlikely to chafe, but with memories of Kinvara 4’s full (and smoother) sleeve serving as a reference, this aspect comes across as an area which can be refined.
And the whole Prolock thing; it seems an unnecessary inclusion which delivers nothing substantial of value, not at all what it’s cracked up to be.
The last ask would be the option of widths, which now should be a default feature-set for mainstream models such as the Kinvara.
Looking at the sixth version of the Kinvara, it is pretty clear that it is based on the identical midsole platform as the K5. So all things being equal, both shoes should end up ditto ride-wise, right?
Except that they aren’t equal, never mind the legacy midsole. When we compared our K5 to the K6, the latter’s midsole was actually softer. Hard to express that in numerical terms (actually, you can if one uses a EVA durometer, which we don’t have) when inspected manually, but we’d say the Kinvara 6’s midsole foam is around 20% softer.
To sum up, the Kinvara has become progressively softer over the years. Coming to think of it, the 2014 Kinvara 5 took a quantum leap towards midsole cushy-ness, and the upward graph continues this year.
This has a major effect on how the heel cushioning feels. The Kinvara 6, like all before it, uses a heel/midfoot only Powergrid insert – a softer foam which feels similar to Nike’s Lunarlon in texture. On firmer models such as the Kinvara 3 and 4, you could feel the cushioning at two distinct levels. You’d sense the Powergrid foam separately as first level padding, and then discern the firmer EVA base underneath.
That distinction has now become blurred, starting from the Kinvara 5, and more so on the Kinvara 6. As the non-Powergrid EVA’s softness increases, it starts matching up with the Powergrid insert when it comes to spongey-ness. So you no longer get the feeling that there’s a separate Powergrid inside, though in reality it 100% continues to be a part of the midsole.
From a performance perspective, the ride behavior is very, very similar to the Kinvara 5. Softly cushioned heel and forefoot, courtesy the midsole, the wider (and deeper) outsole groove+crash pad which splays under weight, and the removable insole. Ok, the insole is the same as Kinvara 5’s, but with subtle aesthetic changes such as removal of last markings and addition of a meshed texture underneath.
Transition was always the Kinvara’s forte, and the K6 does not disappoint. Though the midsole feel is split into forward and rear halves by use of the Powergrid, the feel is smooth and consistent.
The trick which achieves this is the substantial length of the Powergrid foam insert, which does not limit itself to the heel area but extends (forward) nearly halfway the length of the midsole. This prevents the abruptness of material otherwise created by a limited area heel insert – the Puma Ignite is an apt example of that folly.
Up in the front, increased softness leads to increased flexibility, so transitions require some footwork instead of a roll-off/rocker approach. This was one area in which the stiffer Kinvara’s (say 3 and 4) felt snappier, more touch and go if you will. So while we rate the quality of forefoot transition as good, the way in which it comes packaged differs from Kinvara 4’s and earlier.
Like the Kinvara 5, the inner side of the midsole has a flat sidewall, opposed to a grooved treatment on the lateral face. Consistent with how a lot of ‘neutral’ shoes work, there is a minor hint of lateral bias on rear-foot loading/landing.
Though this isn’t something which affects stability, it feels slightly less so than the planted feel of Kinvara 3 or 4 – a side note for those who plan to directly switch from the K4. And if the feel of under-arch support was important for you, know that the Kinvara 5 and 6’s midsole tapers down under the arch, compared to the slightly raised flare of K3 and K4. So you guessed correctly, lower arch-support feel on the new-generation K’s, for whatever you think it is worth.
With an identical K5 midsole comes identical outsole design. Lateral heel coverage of carbon rubber, Saucony Jazz inspired triangular rubber embeds made of blown rubber, all familiar bits and pieces.
The triangular inserts are inlays mounted on raised midsole pods, so there’s some pistoning action there upon weight loading or footstrike.
So what can the Kinvara 6 be used for? That is a good question, and the answer will be an obvious generalization of the shoe’s potential.
We see the Kinvara as a good shoe to have as a daily trainer, one which meets the requirement of being low heel drop, lightweight and cushioned. It is padded but far from mushy, so the shoe isn’t a deterrent for faster runs, though Kinvara old timers might prefer the earlier versions for such workouts.
How about race day? We’d say yes to that too, for distances ranging from 5K to a marathon. Like we said, individual needs are subjective, but the Kinvara definitely has that range to perform when duty calls.
Next year should see a major overhaul of the Kinvara platform, as Saucony should introduce a refreshed midsole platform. What made the Kinvara 3 and 4 popular wasn’t the same for the Kinvara 5 and 6; so will the 2016 Kinvara 7 go back to its minimal design roots? One which put a fuss free upper over a base which felt economical to run in?
If that happens, Bill and Amy will happily approve.
(Disclaimer: For this review, Solereview bought the shoe at full US retail price.)
Looking to upgrade your older Saucony Kinvara 5 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.