After a few false starts, New Balance have rebuilt the SC Elite from the ground up. Have they managed to build a racer worthy of a podium?
New Balance SC Elite v4 – Gaining an Edge?
In previous iterations, the SC Elite provided a very soft, dynamic, and propulsive ride. However, it faced perceptions of needing an extra edge to truly excel in the highly competitive supershoe arena. Recognizing this, New Balance has undertaken a comprehensive overhaul of the SC Elite in its latest release. Every aspect, from the upper design to the geometry, midsole, and outsole, has undergone significant refinement. A notable highlight is the introduction of a full PEBA-based midsole. Its addition marking a groundbreaking move that has the potential to be a game-changer. This innovation positions New Balance to take the decisive step needed for enhanced competitiveness in the market.
I was lucky enough to be one of 25 selected runners to race the NYC marathon with the New Balance SC Elite v4. My below notes and comments are based on this experience and subsequent runs in a “prototype” version of the shoe. However, I’m yet to receive a production pair and I’ll make sure to edit my thoughts once I have it.
Weight in size US 8.5 / EUR 42: 8.0 oz / 227g
US 11 / EU 45 (“prototype” pair): 9.45 oz / 268g
Official Stack: 40mm/36mm (4mm drop)
Release date: February 1, 2024
Retail Price: $250/€280
SC Elite v4 Upper – Fantom Fit Hits the Spot?
The so-called FantomFit upper in the SC Elite v4 bears no resemblance to the previous knit design which garnered mixed opinions among runners. Personally, I struggled with the stretchy material and laces in the last iteration; it always felt like they loosened up during runs, contributing to an unstable ride. In this update, the FantomFit upper and less stretchy laces seem to address these concerns. The new mesh upper has a more rigid, plastic-like feel, providing a more secure hold – an essential feature, especially in a racing shoe. Furthermore, the updated design also feels lighter and more breathable.
I experienced no pressure points or hotspots from the thin laces, thanks to an unusual felt-like tongue that is oddly short. The toe-box is perfectly sized for my foot, fitting true to size. As is common with New Balance, I find the midfoot slightly wide, necessitating a firm tie of the laces for a secure hold. My primary gripe with the upper lies in the fairly roomy heel counter. While sturdy for stability, the minimal padding and no internal ‘pads’ result in some heel slippage, even with a heel-lock or thicker socks. Despite this, it represents a substantial improvement over the overall loose upper in the previous iteration.
I wasn’t a fan of the upper on the previous version of the SC Elite. V3 had a sock-like upper that created a lot of pressure on the top of my feet. In general sock-like uppers are not my thing but this one was really one of the least enjoyable ones. Anyways, New Balance did their homework and started from scratch with a new FantomFit upper and last.
The upper material itself has one of these plasticky textures that isn’t pleasant but does not cause any issues either. It is just meant to reduce weight as much as possible, be airy, breathable and offer a secure fit. For me, it does absolutely all of this but the last point. The fit of my “prototype” pair was quite long in my true to size US 11 / EU 45, wide in the midfoot and with a very wide and loose heel cup.
Essentially, I could not get a proper fit without swapping the stock insoles for my (thicker) custom orthotics and doing a runner’s knot. With these two tricks done, I had a much more pleasant experience. Do you need to go half-down? I’m waiting to test a production pair to address this question.
Unlike Ivan and Alex, I really enjoyed the upper of the previous version. While I wouldn’t have considered the fit to be that of an all-out race day shoe I appreciated the relaxed but snug fit when using them for training sessions. However, it seems that the engineers at New Balance have redesigned it completely as the FantomFit which is found on the SC Elite V4 is completely different.
While the mesh feels quite rough to touch I haven’t had any issues with discomfort or abrasion. I have also found them very breathable and well shaped to the foot, leading to no hot spots or discomfort developing in the shoes when using them for long sessions.
I’ve found my US size 9 fits true to size and the lockdown is excellent, however I have found that my foot slips around in the shoe a bit especially towards the heel. I have been able to fix this issue by tying down the laces tighter than I usually would with other shoes. However, overall the upper is an improvement over the previous version.
The Midsole – Retooled and Reformulated
While the upper in the previous iteration fell short of being optimal, the true dealbreaker for the majority was the absence of a TPE-based midsole compound, crucial for achieving a lighter and more responsive ride. While many competitors had already transitioned to TPE (Thermoplastic Elastomer), such as PEBA or TPE-E, New Balance adhered to supercritical EVA/TPU in their FuelCell composition. This choice delivered a super-soft ride but lacked the lightness and snappiness found in other options.
The SC Elite v4 marks a significant improvement as it finally adopts PEBA. Noticeably enhancing the running experience for me with less of a sink-in feel and more of a springy sensation. I am pleased that this iteration retained a very obvious rocker geometry, a feature that has consistently worked well for me.
Comfort at a cost
While I personally appreciate the aesthetic appeal of the new midsole with its cool angular cutouts, the innovation goes beyond the foam compound. From the well-known Energy Arc to the carbon plate, every component has been redesigned. Moreover, we have a platform that feels both wider and taller. The level of comfort, cushioning, and protection is indeed impressive, though the shoe could benefit from shedding a few grams, with some competitors weighing 20-30g less.
Additionally, the increased width contributes to stability but sacrifices some snappiness in transitions. This has been evident in the nearly 150 km I’ve covered in the shoe. I find it versatile and enjoyable for a variety of runs, delivering a friendly and pleasant experience at moderate to uptempo paces. However, it falls slightly short of delivering the desired punch at race paces for me.
A friendly supershoe?
Despite boasting a full 40mm stack of PEBA and an aggressive 4mm drop on paper, the shoe maintains a friendly feel with my high cadence midfoot strike. Surprisingly, the drop feels closer to 6-8mm with my biomechanics—not necessarily a drawback, just not as aggressive as expected. That being said, I consistently reach for this shoe on most of my runs, finding it enjoyable and providing the protection I look for.
FuelCell can be many things. It used to be based only on nitrogen infused TPU but even then it had many “flavours”. It is now PEBA-based (100% in the New Balance SC Elite v4, or 20% like in the New Balance Rebel v4 – see review here). Is that a good thing?
The short answer is obviously yes. And that is because PEBA is the most modern form of TPE-based foams, that returns the highest amount of energy and that – combined with a stiffening element – provides an improved (and often faster) ride experience. New Balance took a while to develop their version of a TPE-based midsole so obviously the main question is whether it is any good and how it actually works.
The ride of the New Balance SC Elite v4 is one on the gentle side of things in the realm of supershoes. Yes, it wants to go fast and it pushes you forward. That is really the effect of those modern foams. The more energy you put into them, the more they return (up to a certain percentage). Additionally, the carbon plate is also shaped in a way to push the runner forward during their toe-off phase. But the SC Elite v4 does it in a gentle way.
Here, the plate geometry is not too aggressive, and the shoe itself had a rather traditional geometry with a rocker starting more towards the forefoot compared to other “carbon shoes”. The EnergyArc system (a combination of a concave plate and a strategically placed void in the midsole) does wonders with this new foam compound. It gives more room for the PEBA to expand and – I assume – that it helps to store and return more energy. Overall, I like how it feels as a midfoot striker.
What are the drawbacks? The weight to begin with. My “prototype” pair comes at 268g in a size US11. Way too much for a supershoe releasing in 2024. A Vaporfly 3 is 214g in my size. Even a chunkier Alphafly 3 is 241g in my size. The result of that is a feeling of fatigue and “heaviness” that kicks in earlier in those longer tougher runs. It also plays together with the gentle geometry of the shoe and doesn’t help to make it more aggressive.
Outsole – Brand New But Heavy?
In this update, we not only get a new rubber compound but also a broader application of it. Spanning the majority of the midsole, this extensive coverage adds to the shoe’s weight but is anticipated to contribute to its durability. Traction from the well-structured rubber has proven excellent, even in challenging winter conditions here in Scandinavia. This represents a notable improvement over the outsole in the latest iteration. The rubber boasts a pleasing softness and lacks any slappy sensation. However, I’ve noticed a distinct hollow sound upon impact, possibly stemming from the compression of the deep cutout in the rear part.
Coming to the outsole, it is important to start by saying that the rubber compound of an outsole can be very heavy. And the SC Elite v4 in my “prototype” version has a ton of thick rubber coverage. I believe that this could very well be the reason for the heavier weight in my size US 11. After 100kms in the shoe, I don’t see any signs of damage on the outsole (nor on the exposed parts of the midsole). For this reason, I think this will be a durable racing sho
New Balance have struck gold with the rubber of the outsole and they aren’t afraid to show it. The outsole of the shoe is covered extensively with their rubber compound. I have found that it offers great traction on all surfaces ranging from leaf covered roads to snow covered tracks. As Ivan mentioned earlier, it’s a massive improvement upon the previous version not only because the traction has improved but it also protects the midsole to cuts caused by loose rocks.
New Balance SC Elite v4 – Podium Placer or Pretender?
I’m pretty convinced that the New Balance SC Elite v4 is going to be the top pick for many runners. Especially those wanting that extra protection and comfort for crushing half or full marathons. Now, for the lighter folks out there, often looking for a snappier ride on race day, it’s probably going to lean more towards the ultimate supertrainer. Here is a shoe that can handle all sorts of workouts, while still being gentle on the legs.
Either way, I see it as a solid step in the right direction and a definite upgrade from the last version. There are some significant changes to the upper, midsole, and outsole that truly make a positive difference.
If you’re a competitive runner that does not need a super aggressive midsole geometry and prefers protection, cushion while still experiencing the benefits of a modern racing shoe, look no further. The SC Elite may very well be for you. This shoe should also work well for stride runners, heavier runners and people in the 3h to 4h time range over a marathon. It will be a blast for faster runners too. But, keep in mind that some other options on the market may very well make you *feel* faster.
Unpleasant on the ear
Other than the drawbacks described in the ride section, my biggest concern is the noise that Ivan touched upon earlier. It bothers me a lot. That sound is not only loud, it is also annoying and once you hear it, it’s literally impossible to take it out of your head space. Maybe a trick to run alone without any runner in the nearest vicinity at major events? Jokes aside, this needs to be fixed or else the SC Elite v4 will not be remembered for its numerous qualities but for an unpleasant noise.
Like Ivan and Alex, I too am a big fan of the SC Elite v4. The total revamp places the SC Elite v4 as a top competitor for my choice of race day supershoe.
Overall, New Balance are going in the right direction in terms of producing a competitive race day shoe. This latest iteration offers superior cushioning, great stability with the wide base, excellent breathability and a snappy, energetic toe-off. All of this in a package which is priced very similarly to its competitors.
Stacking it up against some of the supershoe legends, I think the SC Elite is up there as a top contender. Even up against the likes of the Adios Pro, Vaporfly and Metaspeed. As such, it should be considered by runners of all levels for their next big running event from the 10km to the marathon.
Long distance legend?
Personally, I wouldn’t use it for anything less than 10km because I don’t find they offer as much snap as I would like from a shoe for that distance. Additionally, the pricing of the shoe is very similar to competitors on the market at the moment. At $250 this seems to be the standard pricing for supershoes in the same class. You can find the Adios Pro, Vapofly and the Metaspeed Sky all coming in at the same price.
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