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New Balance FuelCell Propel v4 Review

New Balance FuelCell Propel v4 Introduction

When you want to make a running shoe exciting, you can’t just put a plate in it and hope for the best: the Hoka Bondi X is proof of this. The Bondi X simply doesn’t make sense because it’s a max-cushioned, easy-day shoe with a stiff carbon plate. Plates are designed to increase the shoe’s rigidity to help you increase your speed and the Bondi was designed for running at slow paces so the Bondi X felt really awkward.

A plate in the New Balance Propel makes a lot of sense. The Propel, which was launched alongside the Rebel back in 2019 has been largely overshadowed by the faster, lighter, and more flashy Rebel.

I purchased the Propel v1 and I loved how soft and comfortable its ride was. It was softer than most max-cushioned trainers at the time but there wasn’t much energy return from the midsole foam, even though it was FuelCell so I used it for recovery runs only.

The Propel was designed to be the daily trainer while the Rebel was designed to be the speed shoe in this FuelCell training range. In the last 4 years, the Rebel has become more and more like a daily trainer: with each update, it has received more cushioning, a more durable outsole, and a more robust build. This has cannibalized
sales of the Propel.

The 2023 Propel v4’s main, headline feature is a brand-new TPU plate in its midsole. It has a new formulation of FuelCell, which is the same density that’s in the much higher-priced New Balance SC Trainer. The upper and outsole have also been redesigned.

It’s listed incorrectly as being 10.7 oz (303 g) on both the New Balance website and the Running Warehouse website. I weighed my US9 and it came in at only 9.7 oz (275 g). This is a weight increase of 0.8 oz (23 g) from the Propel v3. Like most running shoes this year, the price has gone up by $10 and it will now cost you $110.

New Balance FuelCell Propel v4 First Impressions

My first run was 9 km at my easy pace. I was really impressed with how dynamic the ride of the Propel v4 felt. Transitions were smooth, the forefoot felt snappy and it had pleasant, soft landings with each foot strike without being mushy.

The shoes that it reminded me of most were the Saucony Endorphin Speed 1 and the New Balance SC Pacer which are also plated but flexible running shoes. The plate in the Propel v4 was the most flexible of all 3 shoes.

The upper was really comfortable but I had to use a runner’s knot to get a secure heel lockdown. Compared to the previous Propel version that I had tested, the Propel v4’s cushioning felt more substantial, while the ride felt more stable and faster due to the TPU plate.

New Balance FuelCell Propel v4 Upper

The Propel has a cushioned upper which you would find on a typical daily trainer. It’s padded enough to make long runs comfortable and it has no major flaws.

It fits true to size and should be fine for most foot shapes except extremely wide feet. I find that there is enough forefoot and toe box room even with thick socks. The collar has the perfect amount of padding and there’s an internal heel counter for structure. Heel lockdown is good but I had to use a runner’s knot.

The padded tongue is not gusseted so it slides around during runs. The upper is also not that breathable so it’s on the warm side. Those are the only things I don’t like about the upper.

New Balance FuelCell Propel v4 Sole Unit

What makes the Propel v4 so versatile is that it feels stable and cushioned during easy paces while it feels energetic and agile at faster paces. This is a jack of all trades running shoe which can be an easy day, steady day, tempo or even race day shoe.

While the TPU plate is not stiff and it doesn’t give as much propulsion as a super shoe, it has more pop than your average daily trainer. The TPU plate of the Propel v4 takes inspiration from the Endorphin Speed 3’s nylon plate. The Propel’s plate has a midfoot wing which extends outwards, under the arch.

The plate reminds me of the plate that’s in the ASICS GlideRide 3– it’s very flexible so it doesn’t make slow running in the Propel v4 feel awkward. The downside of this is that it doesn’t offer as much propulsion as a stiffer plate. If you want something stiffer/faster, I recommend the Magic Speed 2 or the Puma Deviate Nitro 2.

At 31 mm, the heel stack height isn’t as high as a super shoe or even the Endorphin Speed 3 so your foot sits lower to the ground and stability is very good. When running in the Propel v4, my foot strikes feel very planted which makes it an excellent long run shoe. It also has enough cushioning for a full marathon. The longest run I did in it was 35 km and it felt really protective throughout the run.

I enjoy using the Propel v4 most on steady-paced or fartlek runs. Its plate combined with its lively midsole foam make it really easy to pick up the pace. Another one of the factors which make the Propel v4 feel like a nimble shoe is its 6 mm drop. This makes it easier to midfoot or forefoot strike when you need to increase your speed.

The midsole of the Propel v4 has a large cavity or void underneath it, similar to the size of the one in the NB SC Pacer. This feature is designed to return more energy as the midsole foam and plate deform during footstrikes. This is something which I can feel during runs and it makes a difference to the ride, making it more energetic.

There’s enough rubber coverage on all the high wear areas so durability is decent. The rubber has a flat design which is receded into the midsole so transitions are really smooth. There are no lugs which protrude outwards so grip is only average.

New Balance FuelCell Propel v4 Conclusions

The best thing about the Propel v4 is that it doesn’t feel like a $110 shoe. If you told me that it costs $140, I’d say that it’s a fair price, so $110 for such a versatile, plated shoe is a steal.

When you compare it to other daily trainers, it outshines traditional stalwarts like the Ghost, Pegasus and Clifton which are in the $130-$145 price range.

As a plated speed trainer, it also outshines competitors like the Endorphin Speed 3. I recently ran in the Endorphin Speed 3 to compare and I actually prefer the ride of the Propel v4 for the extra stability and its transitions. I feel that the 6 mm drop of the Propel is better suited to me than the 8 mm of the Speed. The Speed 3 has more cushioning but there’s something about its high toe-spring rocker which feels off to me.

Compared to the NB Rebel v3, the Propel v4 isn’t as soft or fun on short distances but it has more cushioning depth and better stability so it’s better for long runs. It’s a more versatile trainer and it costs $20 less than the Rebel v3.

Version 4 of the Propel is definitely an improvement over previous versions. The new TPU plate has made it a much more exciting shoe, adding stability, snappiness and all-round versatility to a trainer which was too slow to be a daily trainer.

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