Sunday, February 11, 2018

New Balance Fresh Foam Zante v4 Review: Fresh Upper

Article by Dave Ames and Peter Stuart 

Dave: The New Balance Fresh Foam Zante enters its 4th version for Spring 2018 after creating a much buzz in the run world with the original debut of the V1 a few years back. Using New Balance's Fresh Foam midsole compound and force data captured from runners to tune the midsole and outsole geometries, the major goal of the Zante was to create a versatile, lightweight everyday trainer , fast enough for tempo days and workouts, but light enough and snappy enough for the long workhorse miles. 

Laser engravings are carved into the forefoot sidewalls of the V4 intended to establish a softer landing and smoother transition from mid load to toe off. The engineered mesh upper and new Hyposkin mid foot wrap have been updated from previous versions to give a soft, yet “molded” fit. 

Peter: The New Balance Fresh Foam Zante (OG 1st edition) holds a dear place in my heart. That shoe was, for me, a near perfect blend of cushion and responsiveness. I had so much fun in that shoe. Unfortunately the Zante line has been shifting ever so slightly in a firmer direction and each iteration has been just a little less magical for me. So when the Zante V4 showed up I was hoping for a return to the magic and delight of the original….

Stats (Running Warehouse here
Weight 8.5oz/241g (Men’s 9), 7.4 oz/210 g(Women's 8) 
Stack: 23mm (heel) 17mm (forefoot), 6mm drop 
$90. Available now. 

First Impressions and Fit 
Dave: Sliding into the Zante V4 is real nice. I run almost all of my trainers in a size 9 and the 9 was perfect in the Zante. I notice a really nice wrap of my arch with the “No Sew” upper materials and Hyposkin wrap which lock my foot into the platform, quite well. I do have issues with the length of the laces. Far too long, something NB has always struggled with in my opinion. It’s an extremely comfortable shoe and initial impressions from the fit were that it was going to be a nice ride, based on how locked in I felt.
Peter: The Zante V4 looks terrific. It’s a sleek, compact and beautifully designed shoe.  I agree with Dave, it’s a great step in, foot is locked and loaded from the jump. Fit for me is a little small. The Zante is a little tight around the toes--it led to a little bit of rubbing on the outside of one of my feet, but didn’t lead to any blistering or other real problems. 

Dave:  The No Sew upper with the soft Bootie Construction wrap felt very nice on my foot. There was a solid mold around my midfoot and I was locked in nicely from the new Hyposkin wrap.  However, the wrap when laced up too tight caused my foot to be positioned a bit outward, and when running shifted my foot more laterally causing excessive supination on my left foot.  The midfoot wrap on the Zante V4, even for my narrow foot, may be to narrow.  This area could be widened up just a bit and I feel runners with average to wider feet, or even more volume on the top of their foot may struggle with this shoe in getting the right fit.

 Peter: I love the materials used in the upper. The mesh is smooth and soft, the cushioning around the ankle collar is great, the tongue is a really nice thickness and the N logo is just reflective enough to be sort of translucent. The other nice touch is that the midfoot wrap and lace eyelets are a rubber type material (Hyposkin). The laces pull through the eyelets nicely and wrap the midfoot. The downside here is that the toe-box is pretty tight. If your foot runs at all long or wide you might want to size up in these. The midfoot wrap is also pretty tight, which is good for locking down the foot, but can feel a bit restrictive across the middle of the foot. I wish the Zante V4 was just a little bit wider around the midfoot--it would lead to a more natural feeling shoe. 

Dave:  Fresh Foam midsole compound is once again in the Zante V4 for this year.  Unfortunately, as with most Fresh Foam, it’s just plain dull.  The lateral outsole walls cause excessive supination for me in the shoe, taking away from the smooth transition I should be feeling from heel to toe.  This caused my left IT band to flare up immediately on all of my runs.  Then the Fresh Foam side wall geometry is to firm medially, providing no give and no smooth transition.  And finally the outsole is continuous with no real flex grooves making the shoe stiff.
Fresh Foam is intended to give a soft yet snappy response underfoot. Unfortunately, as I have said about Fresh Foam in the past it just can’t compete with the outstanding midsole technologies for 2018, such as FlightGen in Skechers Performance, A-Bound in Altra, Zoom X in Nike, Flightfoam at Reebok, HOVR in Under Armour and BioMogoDNA in Brooks, which are some of my and other testers here at RTR favorites of Spring 2018 so far. The way the shoe is designed, Fresh Foam is holding it back from being a really superior fast trainer. New Balance needs to go back to the lab with Fresh Foam.  I will continue to be critical of it until they realize it’s far too firm and rarely provides any snap. It’s also weighing the shoes down considerably as in the case of the new 1080 when compared to some of the new competition.

Peter: I’m not as mad at Fresh Foam as Dave is. It’s not the most exciting midsole foam out there, but it has some nice qualities. I agree that the lateral outsole walls and firm foam cause some issues on the outside of my foot. I keep hoping that at some magical mileage point they’ll wear in and be a bit more forgiving. Not yet. 
It’s funny, this upper on top of the revlite in the 1400 might be a terrific shoe. Then again, I guess you can just get the 1400 and be done with it. For me the midsole feels okay at slow speeds but snaps to attention pretty nicely when I do strides or faster work. After a certain point, the fresh foam starts to return energy--but is a bit ‘meh’ up ‘til that point. 

Dave:  Blown rubber is used to provide solid traction and a smooth forefoot landing in the Zante V4 but unfortunately without significant flex grooves in the outsole or midsole the result is a stiff shoe. The outsole looks rather durable but with a relatively low stack of Fresh Foam underfoot, my guess is the Zante will continue to be a lower mileage shoe as the previous generations were (175-250 depending on runners gait) - - I had no issues on wet surfaces and the Zante V4 performed well on light single track trail.

Peter: Full coverage blown rubber outsole. No problems here--pretty smooth and great grip. 

Ride and Conclusions

Dave:  New Balance did a really nice job this year in re-tooling the upper making for an overall decent fit.  However, as stated above, the lateral outsole walls on the Fresh Foam midsole caused me to kick out laterally on my left foot and supinate far more than I normally do (and rarely do as is) which flared up my IT band on all of my runs in this shoe.  I believe the midsole contributed to an unpleasurable running experience.  Fresh Foam does not provide the feedback and return I am looking for in a running shoe and the Zante just doesn’t deliver in the way I personally think it should.  The Zante has all the makings in terms of last to mimic something like the Skechers Performance Razor 2, but the Fresh Foam holds it back.
Peter: I’m warming up the Zante V4 a bit. They turn over really quickly which is nice. I’ve generally not had to work hard to go moderately quickly in the Z4.  I think it’s a combination of the firmness and the relatively small footprint of the shoe (it looks smaller than other shoes of the same size). At slow speeds it feels okay, runs fine, I notice a little bit of a firmness on the outside of my right foot in particular. When I get going fast in them I actually really like the ride. The ride doesn’t wow me like the NB 1400 V5 or the Skechers Performance Ride 7, but is nice and hints at moments of being really great. I’m going to keep them in the rotation for a while to see if they break in as the miles build up.


Dave:  7.75/10
-1 - Fresh Foam is far too stiff and lacks the pop I’m looking for
-1 - too snug in the Bootie Construction even on my narrower foot.  Average to wider foot runners may struggle with this shoe.
-.25 - Laces far too long!
 Peter: 8.5/10
-1 Fresh Foam is stiff, ride can be clunky
-.5 upper is a bit restrictive around the midfoot.


New Balance Fresh Foam Zante V4 vs. Skechers Performance Razor 2 (RTR review)
Dave:  Fresh Foam vs. FlightGen?  Not even close.  FlightGen wins out here easily.  Far smoother transition rate, more snap and overall a far pleasurable running experience.  My stride feels more natural in the Razor 2.
Peter: Yep, Razor (especially after a few runs) is a much more natural feeling shoe.

New Balance Fresh Foam Zante V4 vs. Nike Zoom Elite 9 (RTR review)
Dave:  While possibly in the same category as lightweight performance trainers, the win goes to the Zoom Elite 9 in my opinion.  ZE9 is one of the fastest shoes out there right now and for me, just fits like an absolute dream.  It boasts a far quicker heel to toe transition.  There is far more flex in the ZE9.  It's more versatile for workouts both on the road and the track, and it also can be taken for some MRP work, just like that.  ZE9 for the W.

New Balance Fresh Foam Zante V4 vs. Skechers Performance Go Run 6 (RTR review)
Dave:  This is quite a tough call because I really am not a fan of either right now, but it should be compared because they can be pulled off of a store shoe wall as comparable choices.  Skechers wins big time with the new upper and sock like fit, but the Fresh Foam is firmer than the ride of the Run 6.  I’d give the win to the Zante here, mainly because I like a firmer shoe.  If you like a softer ride, go with the Run 6.
Peter: Tough call. I think the Zante is a little more traditional and returns energy a bit better (especially for heel strikers). The Run 6 upper is smooth, but doesn’t hold the foot to the midsole as well.

New Balance Fresh Foam Zante v4 vs. Altra Instinct 4.5 (RTR review)
Dave:  While on totally different platforms and at very different weights, the Instinct being considerably heavier, they both offer “versatility” in that they can be used for different types of runs.  However, I do love the A-Bound midsole materials better than Fresh Foam because they provided a really nice smooth heel to toe transition on all of my runs.  I’m still training in the Instinct 4.5 and have enjoyed every minute in this shoe.  Altra for the W. 

Reviewer Bios
Peter Stuart is a late 40's avid LA based runner with recent sub 3 hour marathons and sub 1:25 halves.
Dave Ames is the Founder and Head Coach of Ame For It Run Coaching, a nationwide run coaching business, training athletes of all ability levels from 5K to Marathon. He tries to stay in sub 3 shape.
Photo Credit: Peter Stuart and Dave Ames
The Zante was provided at no cost. The opinions herein are entirely the authors'.

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Daniel Culbertson said...

Thanks for the review. I had a run-in with the v1 of this shoe and for a few reasons ended up passing on it. I’ve always circled back around to it because I thought the upper fit was worth retrying (went with Vazee Pace v2 in the meantime without regrets). I ended up passing on v4 because the upper fit seemed to finicky (had to size up due to narrow toe on fit and couldn’t get s consistent lacing that felt proper - and those lace lengths!).

I was looking forward to some tempo days in these but have since order some Adizero Boston 6s. More comparable to my Vazee than the Zantes for sure.

Dave Ames said...

Hi Daniel,

Thanks for the insight on this. It's good to always here how original Zante v1 lovers like the v4 and if they actually stuck around to run in it or like in your case moved on to something else.

Run hard, Dream Big,


adic said...

Hello! I found something interesting at my regional NB website. And it is also present on the global NB website. It is "NB Fresh Foam Veniz". It looks identical original NB FF Zante (v1). What is it? Is this the return of the classics? Or something new?