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Review: New Balance FuelCell Supercomp Elite V4

A low-drop super shoe that found its way onto the Boston Marathon podium. But can it deliver for the average runner?

Review: New Balance FuelCell Supercomp Elite V4 1
Review: New Balance FuelCell Supercomp Elite V4 2

This year, New Balance released the FuelCell Supercomp Elite V4: the latest iteration of their popular Supercomp line (or SC, for the New Balance stans). Redesigned with ultra-responsive foam, they labeled this version the best road racer they’ve ever made. 

Consider this huge, transformer-like super-shoe New Balance’s proprietary weapon for the upcoming Olympic marathon in Paris this summer; where bragging rights for world’s top shoe will be up for grabs. Nike has the AlphaFly 3, ASICS has the Metaspeed Paris, Brooks has the Hyperion Elite 4, and New Balance has, well, this: a plush, powerful, robotic-looking sneaker that has yet to make huge waves at major races since its release.

Curious as to how it compares to its counterparts, I decided to take the FuelCell Supercomp Elite V4 through a thorough wear test. Here, I share in which way I thought the shoe destroyed its competitors, where I found it lacking, how its new foam profile makes it feel different from its predecessor, and whether the Supercomp Elite V4 is worth the hefty price tag.

The TL;DR – What You Need To Know:

6.5

MH RATING

Despite my history as a New Balance guy, these were a bit lack luster and missing that star quality.

  • The New Balance FuelCell Supercomp Elite V4 is a comfortable super shoe that offers a good push forward without altering your stride.
  • If you’ve got wide feet, these are great, but if not, you’ll find yourself lacing them super tight and even them might slide around a bit.
  • The new PEBA foam offers more bounce and forgiveness than it’s predecessor.
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Review: New Balance FuelCell Supercomp Elite V4 3
  • All of our shoe testers are died-in-the-wool, experienced runners with a broad experience of the sport. They’re typically running 30+ miles per week.
  • We put each pair of shoes through a battery of tests: a typical review will involve several test runs on a variety of distances and terrains, designed to identify any snags or issues.
  • We talk to experts in the shoe industry and gather advice and insights from other runners, to best understand the shoe and how it suits the end user: you, the runner.

The Deets: Tech Specs For The Supercomp Elite V4

  • MSRP: $250
  • Release date: February 1
  • Stack height: 40mm 
  • Weight: 8.4 oz (men’s size 10)
  • Heel-to-toe drop: 4mm 

The Pros: 

Comfortable super shoe: Sure, we buy supershoes less for comfort and more for leaving our past selves in the dust; but comfort is a welcome bonus. These ones feel more like training shoes than like stilts or stilettos. That being said, my right shoe once made the skin over my achilles tendon chafe near the end of a run. 

Rocks forward, but doesn’t distort your stride: Some super shoes (like the HOKA Cielo X1) will shove you onto your toes. The FuelCells offer more of a pleasant nudge.

Excellent long run/race companion: It has one of the best combinations of power and comfort in a super shoe, which helps you bounce back from long sessions with little to no aches or pains.

The Cons: 

Lack high-end power: While it scores more comfort points than, say, the Nike AlphaFly and the Adidas Adios Pro 3, it does not offer the same forward bounce.

Width prevents total lock-in: You have to lace them super tightly to prevent lateral foot movements, which can then irritate the top of the feet. 

Heavier than predecessor: We assume it’s a tradeoff they had to make in order to include the carbon in there. Also, we’re talking 0.2 ounces: a barely noticeable difference.


Review: New Balance FuelCell Supercomp Elite V4 4

New Balance FuelCell Supercomp Elite V4: First Impressions

Let me break the first rule of being a neutral shoe reviewer and say that I’m a New Balance guy. We all have our past, and mine just happens to be littered with Fresh Foam Zantes. So, I had a feeling I would quickly take to these racers.

The New Balance shoes of today feel nothing like the Zantes and the rest of their fleet circa-2015; the Supercomp Elite V4, on paper, presents more like a cross between their FuelCell Propel V4 and Supercomp trainers. They’re stacked with a carbon plate and the maximally-allowed amount of foam (40mm) like the Supercomp; and that stack includes the nitrogen-infused, curved FuelCell foam designed to spring runners forward. 

I was also curious to see how they might compare to the shoe’s previous version, the Supercomp Elite V3, which did not feel aggressive enough to contend with other supershoes. The V4s, in contrast, have a new layer of energy-returning PEBA foam, and off the bat I found them to offer a bouncier, more forgiving ride.



Here are the Supercomp Elite V4’s key specs:

FuelCell tech and carbon plate: The Supercomp Elite V4 is not a complete marshmallow; it does have some muscle. New Balance adorned it with a thin carbon plate, which combines with the FuelCell tech to encourage a springy and upright stride.  

PEBA Midsole: Another key addition to their bouncy, 40mm matrix is a midsole made of ultra-responsive PEBA foam: the secret sauce of supershoes.

Energy Arc tech: The midsole has carefully constructed voids, designed for energy capture and return. The voids also cuts a bit of weight from the shoe.

Rocker profile: The lower’s shape encourages a move forward, but also doesn’t render impossible a heel or mid-foot strike (a good thing, especially in longer races).

Solid rubber outsole: The FuelCell Supercomp Elite V4 prides itself on its durability; the solid rubber outsole helps it to avoid abrasions, or lose its form after a handful of runs. 

Lightweight mesh: The FantomFit upper is sturdier than some of the more mesh-based uppers of its counterparts, but is breathable nonetheless.

Fit: True to length, but a bit wide. 

Overall difference from FuelCell Supercomp Elite V3: The PEBA foam saves the V4 from being a near-replica of earlier versions, and gives it a bounce that allows for better sprinting. Essentially, the V4 is like the V3 with an extra set of teeth.


Review: New Balance FuelCell Supercomp Elite V4 5

Road Testing The New Balance FuelCell Supercomp Elite V4

I’ve made it a habit to never warm up in supershoes, because most of them feel terrible at sub-optimal speeds, and thrust me on my toes when I’m not looking to run anywhere near race pace.

The Supercomp Elite V4s are different: they are perhaps the only super shoe that feel somewhat normal on an easy run. My first workout with them consisted of a straight tempo and then hill sprints. Unlike classic trainers, which in contrast stop feeling comfortable when I pick up the pace, the FuelCells, in classic transformer fashion, continuously morphed into whatever I needed them to be.

They offered a powerful ride for my tempo; allowed for a fast and springy turnover on my hill sprints; and then supported my then-broken form through my characteristically slow cooldown (which my college cross-country coach once called a “march of the penguins”). At no point from start to finish did I wish to have different sneakers on, and I’ve never had that experience with super shoes.



Of course, that everlasting comfort comes with a trade-off: a dearth of full-throttle, top-end speed. Other shoes (like the AlphaFly 3) feel clunky and awkward on easy runs because they simply are not meant to travel at suboptimal gears.

The FuelCell may be more accommodating to easy runs because it is not quite as uniquely tailored for top-speed running. It’s why, I suspect, we have not seen the FuelCell Supercomp Elite V4 grace many world-class podiums since its release. 


Review: New Balance FuelCell Supercomp Elite V4 6

New Balance FuelCell Supercomp Elite V4 Review Takeaways

The New Balance FuelCell Supercomp Elite V4 is the gateway drug into the world of super shoes. Yes, with PEBA foam, a carbon plate, and rock-forward tech that just makes you want to sprint, it’s the real deal. But it also has enough bulk and stability to take you through a more leisurely steady state workout, or even an easy run.

If you are looking for a kick that explodes off the ground like a well-inflated basketball, there are better options for you out there. But if you are new to supershoes, want a pair for more than just races, or want to go fast for a long way on a midfoot strike, they are a top notch buy. 

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Alex is a Toronto-based journalist who writes mostly about health, sports, culture and people.

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