Thursday, January 28, 2021

Saucony Freedom 4 Multi Tester Review: Still Free in Nature. Refined, Easier to Run & More Versatile.

Article by Jacob Brady, Peter Stuart, and Michael Ellenberger

Saucony Freedom 4 ($150)

Introduction


Jacob: The Freedom is Saucony’s lighter weight, typically more uniquely unstructured, tempo-leaning daily trainer and general wear-around shoe. It is a lighter weight, lower stack alternative to the daily trainer Ride series and max cushion Triumph. Now at Puma former Saucony runner and last year’s US Olympic Marathon Trials runner-up Molly Seidel says she used the Freedom 3 for gym workouts (not only running) and even casual wear due to the comfort and style. I was a big fan of the Freedom 3 myself and also used it a lot for casual wear, slipping on, just walking the dog, as it was very comfortable and had a balance of good softness and cushion without being too thick of a stack or heavy. 


The Freedom 4 makes one dramatic change, switching the midsole from Saucony’s soft and bouncy PWRrUN+ to the firmer and snappier PWWRUN PB. It is Saucony’s first deployment of PWRRUN PB, a PEBA based material, without a plate (previously only in the Endorphin Pro and Speed). For other changes, the Freedom 4 gains 0.5mm in stack height and drops the Freedom 3’s flexible, tacky crystal rubber, employing a firmer rubber. I truly enjoyed both the outstanding slipper-like comfort of the Freedom 3 and the dramatically flexible and soft midsole, so was curious to see how the large changes in midsole and outsole impacted what I liked about the Freedom 3.

Michael: Finally - freedom! This is my first Saucony Freedom review - though Sam sent me his pair of the Freedom ISO 2 way back in 2018, and I’ve given the Freedom 3 a couple test runs, so I have some familiarity with the line. Undoubtedly - the model has come a long way in a relatively short time. The Freedom 4 is a more fun, more comfortable, and overall more refined experience than its predecessors, anchored by new PWWRUN PB. In a step away from pure road running, the Freedom 4 is geared as a do-it-all, road-to-gym shoe - will top-shelf midsole foam and a flashy colors take the Freedom 4 to new heights?

Stats

Estimated Weight: men's 8.5 oz  / 241 (US9) 

  Samples: 9.5 oz / 269 g (USM12), 8.5 oz / 241g (US9)

 Freedom 3: M9 8.6 oz /243 g RTR Review

Stack Height: 28mm heel / 24mm forefoot, 4mm drop

Available March 2021  $150.


Pros and Cons

Pros:

Jacob/Michael: Stable, consistent, performs well at a range of paces

Jacob/Michael: Excellent all-around daily trainer

Peter/Michael/Peter: lively midsole

Jacob: Comfortable, soft, and secure upper

Jacob: Smooth ride; balanced cushion

Peter: surprisingly fun and stable ride


Cons:

Jacob: Less exciting feel and ride than its predecessor; less “free” (firmer and less flexible)

Peter: Not great for long miles, forefoot starts to fatigue after 8-10 miles for me.

Michael: Slightly flat-feeling; unaggressive

Michael: Sloppy forefoot (but testing a half-size up)


Tester Profiles

Jacob is a runner and general endurance sports enthusiast. He runs a mix of roads and trails in the Portland, Maine area. He has been running every day for two and a half years and averages around 50 miles per week. Jacob races on road and trail at a variety of distances. In the past two race seasons has done several marathons and shorter (≤ 50km) ultras and mountain races. He has a PR of 2:51 in the marathon and a recent half TT PR of 1:18. In addition to running, he does hiking, biking (mountain/gravel/road), surfing, and nordic skiing. He is 25 years old, 6 ft / 182 cm tall and 155 lbs / 70 kg. You can check out Jacob’s recent activities on Strava here.


Peter lives in Austin, Texas and has been a sub 3 hour marathoner as well as a 1:25 half marathoner in recent years


Michael is a 2019 graduate of Northwestern University Law School in Chicago, with an interest in patent and intellectual property law. Prior to law school, he competed collegiately at Washington University in St. Louis (10,000m PR of 30:21). He recently finished 2nd at the Chicago Half-Marathon in a PR of 67:43, and was the top Illinois finisher in the 2017 Boston Marathon (2:33:03, 82nd overall). He recently secured a 2:31 marathon PR at the Austin Marathon. 


First Impressions and Fit

Jacob: The sample color I received is a bright, blaring yellow. Quite a first impression and not what I’d expect from a shoe designed for both running and general athletic use. The materials and construction is sleek and high-quality and though bright, the yellow is not aggressive. The first thing I did was bend the shoe in hand, as I remember clearly doing this with the Freedom 3 last year and being amazed at how much I could contort the shoe without reaching a breakpoint or feeling like I was causing damage. In comparison, the Freedom 4 is much less flexible, hitting a breakpoint just behind the metatarsal heads and not being nearly as flexible laterally. It is also notably less soft. Both the firmer midsole and outsole are factors here.


On foot, sizing and comfort is great and reminiscent of the Freedom 3. I’m glad Saucony kept the soft mesh, gusseted tongue, and thick, stretchy tube laces. Underfoot the midsole is not overtly soft—a moderate cushion. It feels very stable and locked in, even just standing around. 

Peter: Yep, fits great, feels a little more like a shoe than a slipper this time. Puffy ass laces. Fit is true to size and lace-up is instantly comfortable. 


Michael: While I don’t think the bright, near-neon yellow is my favorite color option, it’ll certainly catch your attention - and help you stand out in these dark winter months. Color aside, I had fond first impressions of the Freedom 4. It’s undoubtedly a comfortable fit - slightly large (as I’ll discuss lightly below, I tested a half-size up from my usual), but cozy enough. It did - as I recall from the Freedom ISO 2 - feel “flatter” across the insole than your


Upper

Jacob: The Freedom 4 upper is lightweight, soft, and seamless. It is largely just a single piece of medium thickness engineered mesh. It has an excellent stretchy gusseted tongue design with thick, soft, and dynamic tube laces which makes lace-up easy, allows slipping on while tied, and provides great comfort. Despite big changes to the midsole and outsole, the fit is similarly slipper-like and unobtrusive like the Freedom 4. 

The major difference in upper is the Freedom 4 employs a higher and more substantial heel counter. Along with the firmer midsole and lower flexibility, the rigid heel counter makes the Freedom 4 more locked in and stable but less “free”. 

Peter: The Freedom 4 upper works. As with all recent Saucony’s the colors and materials are totally on point. I find there’s a little more room in the toe-box than in the Endorphin line. 

Michael: I’ll preface, as usual, that I received a half-size up from my usual, so some comments regarding sizing and fit must be viewed through that lens. With that said, I found the upper on the Freedom 4 to be well-designed, particularly around and under the laces - they are comfortable even when tight, and the tongue had no movement whatsoever. 

My heel was consistently locked in (even with the sizing quirks). 

As Peter points out, I found the toebox a little wide for my liking - whereas the Endorphin Shift and Pro were snug and a precise fit, I felt the Freedom was just a little too broad for my liking.


Midsole

Jacob: The key update in version 4 of the Freedom is the use of Saucony’s PEBA midsole material, PWRRUN PB. PWRRUN PB made its first appearance last year in Saucony’s top of the line carbon-plated marathon racer, the Endorphin Pro. It was also used in the nylon-plated training companion, the Endorphin Speed. I ran both of these shoes and found PWRRUN PB to be unique even compared to other brand’s PEBA midsoles, feeling “ready to burst” with energy and having excellent rebound, but interestingly also stable and somewhat firm, rather than super-soft and squishy like Nike’s Zoom X (also PEBA). I even felt PWRRUN PB was slightly harsh in the heel of both the Endorphin Pro and Speed, but both those shoes were stiffened and apparent stack height reduced due to the plates. 

Overall, I really enjoy the use of PWRRUN PB in the Freedom 4. It is cushioned enough for any distance and snappy enough for speed work. It is soft and flexible but not overdone and stable given the flexibility. For a lighter weight, moderate stack do-it-all daily trainer, the Freedom 4 midsole feel is nearly perfect—it is definitely better than the harder to control Freedom 3 in this regard. It has good dampening, a medium level of softness (firmer than PWRRUN+), and energy return is directed forward well, rather than being lost in instability. It is quick to turnover when you need it to be, but relaxed and enjoyable flexible. This is different from how PWRRUN PB feels in the Endorphin series. The Freedom 4 loses a bit of the soft and flexible fun of the Freedom 3’s PWWRUN+, but retains the free feel and gains in all-around training performance from the PWRRUN PB midsole.

Peter: It’s night and day between the PWRRUN in the Saucony Ride 14 and the PWRRUN PB in the Freedom 4. Where the Ride feels harsh, stiff and lacks energy return, the Freedom 4 is laugh out loud fun. The shoe bounces back off the road (without feeling out of control) and is soft without being squishy. It’s a really nice midsole material. I’d love for it to find its way into the Kinvara as well replacing its PWRRUN foam.  

Michael: We’ve hyped the Endorphin series so broadly at this point (and I’ll continue to go to bat for the Shift as the best “maximalist” trainer) that readers are probably quite familiar with the benefits of PWRRUN PB in 2021. In the Freedom 4, the midsole is well-cushioned (certainly enough for longer and slower efforts), but also quite peppy when turning over. As a next-generation foam, this is basically what you’d want in a trainer. It’s on the firmer side, to be sure, but it’s not harsh when running - even in cold weather.


I do wish there was a little more shaping to it, though - as noted above, I found the shoe to feel slightly flat underfoot, without the aggressive stance of the Endorphin shoes (even the Shift!). That geometry (or lack thereof) isn’t a dealbreaker, but I do think it may contribute to some of the foot-fatigue others have mentioned.


Outsole

Jacob: The Freedom 4 outsole is composed of nearly full coverage rubber with some exposed midsole in the midfoot and flex grooves in the forefoot. It is a similar outsole pattern to the Endorphin Pro and Speed but with more coverage. The Freedom 4 outsole provides good stability, traction, and blends with the midsole well to provide a balanced level of pop of the road without much slapping sensation. 

As a stability feature, the outsole wraps up around the edge of the midsole just in front of the heel on both the lateral and medial sides. Thus with the Freedom 4 we have a firmer midsole, firmer outsole, stability features in the outsole, and a more rigid heel counter. All of these work to make the shoe more stable and controllable, and it is really felt! However, the Freedom 4 remains relatively free-feeling overall (just much less so than the 3), especially due to the slipper-style upper. 

Peter: Plenty of rubber and grip here without going too far. The Freedom 4 should last a long time. There’s plenty of rubber to meet the road, but some nice big areas that are exposed--keeping the weight down and not giving up any traction. The ride stays nice and smooth.

Michael: Agreed with the others here; I think the Freedom 4 is well-proportioned and grippy. Because Saucony also  pitches this as a gym shoe, I took it out for the only gym activity I enjoy - snow shoveling - and did not have issues across packed snow and ice. The outsole isn’t as deep as the recently-reviewed Puma Deviate Nitro, but it does the trick.


Ride

Jacob: The Freedom 4 has a performant and versatile ride. It is stable, medium soft, comfortably flexible, springy, and quick. The level of cushion is just right for a daily trainer. I could do any distance in it with comfort but it is light and quick to rebound off the pavement.


In testing I’ve done a few mid-long distance (~10mi) runs, random easy shorter distance casual runs, structured workouts, including 200’s on the track, and just walking around the city. Though the Freedom 4 would not be my first pick for long runs or track workouts, it does both well. The PWRRUN PB midsole gives a lively ride, but is not squishy or overly bouncy. It is nicely stable despite the free-feeling upper and flexibility and has well-directed forward energy return, leading to a consistent turnover and nice cruising ride. At faster paces I can feel my foot sink in and pop off more, though at slow paces it’s more of just a smooth roll with less pop. The fit contributes heavily to the ride as it is free-feeling and light on the foot. Coupled with the 4mm drop the Freedom 4 retains the light “free” nature of the Freedom line, but is more refined, easier to run in, and more versatile.


Peter: I was really surprised by the ride of the Freedom 4. It has much more in common with the Endorphin line than with the RIde or even the Kinvara.  The midsole, coupled with a sleek upper combines to give a fun, fun ride. The landing is soft, but then bounces off the ground. I would use it for a daily run any time. I agree that it is not the shoe of choice for long miles, but anything less than 10 should be fine. It makes total sense that they are also marketing it as a gym shoe. I sometimes run 4 or 5 to the gym, workout and then come home and this is a shoe I can do that in without compromising stability in the gym or a great run on the way there and back. 


Michael: Without the context of the Ride or the Kinvara, I went into the Freedom 4 mileage almost without expectations. I knew it carried over the midsole from the Endorphin line, but that its lineage preceded those Saucony super-shoes. Fortunately, I think the ride holds up to its compatriots. It is slightly flat (both in feeling, as I’ve driven at earlier, and it offset) for a daily trainer that I would seek out, but the midsole is so lively that I don’t think those deficiencies play a significant role. That is, whereas some lower-drop shoes seem to require more energy input to get that forward “spring” effect, I think the F4 was ready to go from the first step, and really did come alive at faster clips. 


Conclusions and Recommendations


Jacob: The Freedom 4 is a top class modern daily trainer and a fantastic update to its predecessor. It is defined by a slipper-like, light on the foot, soft and flexible feel. Though flexible, it is also stable and has well directed rebound, leading to a smooth, consistent ride. Fit is superb and comfortable. The Freedom 4 is fairly lightweight and quick moving, but relaxed enough for chill runs. It can do everything from long runs to workouts and the ride remains energetic and enjoyable throughout. In comparison to the Freedom 3, the Freedom 4 is more refined with a less dramatically soft and flexible ride but still an enjoyably free feel true to the name. Overall the Freedom 4 is my favorite do-it-all trainer in a while and a great start to 2021.

Jacob’s Score: 9.3 / 10

Ride: 9 (50%) Fit: 10 (30%) Value: 9 (15%) Style: 9 (5%)


Peter: The Freedom 4 is a big win! It’s fun, easy to run in and a great choice for a “one shoe to bring on vacation for anything”. I didn’t have any big expectations and I’ve been very pleasantly surprised. When the Ride 14 and the Freedom 4 came in I was sure I’d love the RIde...but the Freedom 4 is the winner. A terrific shoe for lots of different runs and environments.! 

Peter’s Score: 9/10 


Michael: Jacob’s “modern” terminology is a good one - the Freedom 4 has a lot of new stuff onboard and, in playing to the do-everything, gym-going crowd, represents Saucony’s awareness of the growing need for running shoes with a little something extra. Despite all the great things I’ve had to say about the Freedom, I will say this - for a runner like me who has a shoe for basically any type of run, there isn’t a huge need for this. I have high-mileage trainers, high-cushioned trainers, tempo-day shoes, racing shoes… you name it! But most runners aren’t like me (for good reason), and I think for those who want a singular shoe to do a lot - the Freedom 4 is an awesome choice. It’s not bargain bin parts slapped together for pseudo-runners, it’s high-end, next-generation running shoe technology that is adaptable to a lot of use cases - and for that, I think the Freedom 4 deserves some adoration. 

Michael’s Score: 9.2/10



Comparisons

Index to all RTR reviews: HERE


Saucony Freedom 2 and 3 (RTR Review)

Michael: I had limited mileage in both, but enough to know that the Freedom 4 is a marked improvement over its predecessors. The wider forefoot should accommodate many runners, and the improved midsole gives it that extra oomph to transcend it from “regular-good Saucony trainer” to “high-end, do-all pick.” Take the Freedom 4.


Saucony Kinvara 12 (RTR Review)

Peter: The Freedom 4 is what i WISH the Kinvara 12 felt like. They both get a little old for me over 10 miles, but the Freedom 4 is just more fun to run in. The Kinvara 12 colorway is completely excellent though. 


ASICS Dynablast (RTR Review)

Michael: ASICS’s Dynablast is a ton of fun, with limited drawbacks. I prefer its high stack and steeper drop to Saucony’s flatter profile, both truthfully - both are great options. At $110 and a generous portion of FlyteFoam Blast, I prefer the Dynablast - but Saucony diehards, and those wanting a shoe that can function equally well for cross-training won’t be disappointed by the Freedom 4 at all.


Nike Zoom Pegasus Turbo 2 (RTR Review)

Michael: Let’s get this out of the way - the  Nike Pegasus Turbo 2 is an excellent trainer, and was my top pick in 2019. It's pillow soft, yet still responsive and versatile. It’s very different underfoot from the Freedom 4… but that doesn’t mean the Freedom 4 doesn’t have its benefits. For a lot of running - especially faster running - I prefer a denser, more firm midsole - and the Saucony checks that box extremely well. I think the upper on the Nike is better, but only slightly. For those who want those non-running benefits we’ve mentioned, the Freedom 4 is undoubtedly superior. For those who only want a trainer, I think it’s a choice between soft and firm. Nike will bring the “squish” factor, at the cost of some of that kinetic spring feeling that Saucony’s midsole brings. For everyday training, I slightly prefer the Turbo 2.

Hoka Mach 3 and Mach 4 (RTR Review)

Peter: The Mach 3 is stiff and unpleasant compared to the  completely lovely Mach 4. I’ve put more miles on the Mach 4 than anything else so far this year. The Freedom 4 is a little more fun and a snappier ride for short distances, but the Mach 4 can go 20 miles easy. 


Michael: Mach 4 > Freedom 4 >>> Mach 3. It’s close amongst those top two. Whereas the Mach 4 feels more stable and cushioned, and the Freedom 4 a little bouncier and unbridled, I ultimately prefer the cruiser platform of the Hoka over the flatter, more generalized statute of the Saucony.


Brooks Hyperion Tempo (RTR Review)

Michael: The Tempo has an awesome midsole, awesome upper, and (to my foot), only a so-so fit that keeps it from achieving top-tier greatness. That said, I think this is a closer battle than one might expect for those wanting a singular running shoe option. The Tempo is hardy enough for easy and slow running (if a little light underfoot), and hums at faster paces. The Freedom 4 is more neutral, but that new midsole compound really does feel good when running hard. It’s a toss-up, but I think I’d prefer the Saucony.


Saucony Endorphin Speed (RTR Review)

Peter: The Freedom 4 and the Endorphin Speed share some DNA. Obviously similar foam, but there is no plate on the Freedom. I find the fit to be a little more forgiving on the Freedom 4, but for any serious tempo efforts I’d take the Endorphin Speed out. 


Skechers Razor + (RTR Review)

Peter: This might be the most similar shoe to the Freedom 4. They are both pretty low to the ground and responsive. I can get more miles out of the Razor +, but I think the Freedom might work better overall as a shoe. I’d probably pick the Razor 3 over either of these!


Michael: Glad Peter pointed this out - a really close comparison. I think the Razor+, despite my initial middling review, is a well-done and damn fun option. The Freedom 4, as noted, doesn’t have quite the dynamism of the Skechers, but is also a more substantial trainer, without that “bottoming out” that I encountered in the Razor+. For a tempo shoe, I’d take Skecher’s R+ but… for a do-it-all shoe, I think the Freedom 4 is a better call.


Watch RTR Editor Sam's Initial Freedom 4 Video Review



The Freedom 4 releases March 2021

Tested samples were provided at no charge for review purposes. No other compensation was received for this review from Saucony. The opinions herein are entirely the authors.

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10 comments:

Unknown said...

As noted in many reviews Razor+ fit is quite narrow in the forefoot. From this review I gather the Freedom 4 is more roomy in the forefoot. Would that be the rtr consensus?

Peter S. said...

The razor + has more room than the razor 3, but yes, the freedom feels like it has more room in forefoot than either!

Michael said...

Agreed with Peter!

Bobcat said...

Any comparisons to the Nike Turbo 2?

I think a lot of people are looking for a replacement PEBAX shoe without a plate similar to the Turbo.

Jacob B said...

@Bobcat I have not run the Turbo but given my experience with Zoom X in other shoes would imagine the Freedom 4 is notably firmer.

Sam Winebaum said...

HI Bobcat,
Comment / Comparison from Michael regarding Pegasus Turbo 2

"Let’s get this out of the way - the Nike Pegasus Turbo 2 is an excellent trainer, and was my top pick in 2019. It's pillow soft, yet still responsive and versatile. It’s very different underfoot from the Freedom 4… but that doesn’t mean the Freedom 4 doesn’t have its benefits. For a lot of running - especially faster running - I prefer a denser, more firm midsole - and the Saucony checks that box extremely well. I think the upper on the Nike is better, but only slightly. For those who want those non-running benefits we’ve mentioned, the Freedom 4 is undoubtedly superior. For those who only want a trainer, I think it’s a choice between soft and firm. Nike will bring the “squish” factor, at the cost of some of that kinetic spring feeling that Saucony’s midsole brings. For everyday training, I slightly prefer the Turbo 2."
Sam, Editor
Thanks for reading Road Trail Run! See our index page with links 100’s of in depth shoe and gear reviews HERE. You can also follow RoadTrailRun on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram where we publish interesting run related content more frequently as well as links to our latest reviews.
Shopping through links on articles help support RoadTrail Run and is much appreciated!

Anonymous said...

To be accurate, this article should say "former Saucony runner....Molly Seidel..." since she runs for Puma now.

Jimmy said...

Is it 8.5 oz or 7.5 oz like RW says https? https://youtu.be/oa_u9tc6nkw

Sam Winebaum said...

Hi Jimmy,
We weigh all our samples and I don't think RW typically does or may have a different size. We always normalize to a US9. My US9 sample weighs 8.47 oz / 240g. There can be difference between samples and final but typically very little and not a full ounce,
Sam, Editor

Thanks for reading Road Trail Run! See our index page with links 100’s of in depth shoe and gear reviews HERE. You can also follow RoadTrailRun on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram where we publish interesting run related content more frequently as well as links to our latest reviews.
Shopping through links on articles help support RoadTrail Run and is much appreciated!

Jimmy said...

Thanks Sam, I would think the 4 should weigh a good amount less than the 3 since it switched from TPU to PB, but sadly not. Also, weighing more than the Speed with less stack and no plate seems like a lost opportunity, especially with similar pricing. The lack of plate would probably make it more daily trainer friendly but having a drop in weight would be nice considering the lower stack and heel drop.