According to one source, the New Balance FuelCell offers “a highly responsive ride loaded with cushioning (the shoe is) ideal for anything from uptempo runs to daily training.” (Running Warehouse)
Do we agree? See the verdict below.
The FuelCell trainer weighs 10.8 ounces and offers a 6mm drop. It’s built on a curved last and is slip-lasted. Supposedly, there’s nitrogen infused into the insole for high levels of energy return and a springy ride.
The sole of the FuelCell looks like one you would find on a Saucony trainer.
The fit of the FuelCell is virtually perfect, neither overly snug nor loose. It’s nice and secure in the midfoot.
The laces on the shoe are elastic which enhances the comfortable fit. The laces stayed tied; however, they’re overly long.
The heel counter is firm and while there’s not much cushioning around the ankles, there’s enough to get the job done. The tongue is firmly stitched in place and does not move around.
The FuelCell’s upper is one-of-a-kind. I vacillated between viewing it as a sharp design and being concerned that it gives off a cartoonish super-hero shoe look.
The FuelCell comes with a uniquely thin Ortholite insole. Initially, I liked the fact that this insole was relatively unobtrusive.
It does not detract from the available foot space inside the shoe. (So many running shoes these days have limited space above the toes, and thick insoles further reduce that space.)
I have second thoughts about the FuelCell’s insole, as noted below.
The FuelCell provides a European racing flat feel for the first two to three miles. It feels light, fast and close to the ground.
This is a very good thing for ultra “fleet on their feet” Cheetahs and Bobcats. But if you’re more of a Penguin, you will likely find that the FuelCell delivers a harsh, plodding ride.
The RunRepeat summary of reasons not to buy noted that a “user experienced pain in their heel while wearing the shoe.” I also felt heel discomfort and pain while jogging in the FuelCell.
This was partially remedied by replacing the minimal Ortholite insole with a medium-width Ortholite sock liner. However, the end result was that the discomfort began to spread throughout my feet.
The RunRepeat Outsole summary notes that “There are no plastic support plates or gaps in the outsole so that flexing is guided, thus making the outsole bend like a singular solid unit.”
The flip side of this is that the outsole also fails to bend as a singular unit. The forefoot itself is quite inflexible.
Grading the FuelCell
Speed – B+ to A
The Fuel Cell allows for rapid feet turnover and facilitates running at fast, steady paces.
Stability – A to A+
Consistency – A to A+
It’s rare to find a running shoe in which every single footstrike feels exactly like the one that preceded it, whether landing on the left or right foot. But this is the case with the FuelCell. It’s the Xerox machine of the road.
Cushioning – D to C-
It would be natural to assume that a shoe with a list price of $160 is going to provide stunning levels of comfort and cushioning. That assumption would be wrong when it comes to the FuelCell. Every road surface felt harder and more punishing than usual on runs in this model.
Responsiveness – C- to B-
The FuelCell is responsive in terms of allowing a fast runner to hit a road surface and leave it quickly. But on slow to mid-pace training runs the shoe appears to kill every footfall. (Once the shoe has landed, it wants to stay on the ground. There’s no bounding ahead – no enhanced forward motion. )
Durability – D to C-
Wear on the blown rubber sole was evident within just a few miles. The heel area is noticeably compressed, and there’s some visible peeling away of rubber on the side of the midsole. Let’s hope that my pre-release media sample was an exception rather than the rule.
Note: I am not a Clydesdale runner. I would be considered small to mid-sized in height and weight.
The Firmness Issue
This is, quite simply, a firm shoe, very firm.
I have not run in a shoe this firm since 2013. And the firmness is extremely apparent now at a time when most running shoe companies have moved to soft foam midsoles.
With some shoes, one says, the heel is firm or the forefoot or the midsole, especially if there’s a support shank involved. With the FuelCell the entire sole – that aforementioned singular unit outsole - is firm.
If you have a somewhat inflexible foot that requires flexibility in the shoe you wear, this is a far from positive development.
This is a split decision.
Road and Track magazine wrote this about the Ferrari 458 Speciale automobile: “(It) was an amazing car for the first 30 minutes and exhausting for every mile after.”
This is pretty much how I felt about the New Balance FuelCell shoe. It feels great for the first few miles, but after that not so much.
For gifted small and lightweight runners with perfect form and strong feet, the FuelCell will get the job done with little interference. It has just enough protection, like a stiff racing flat, for fast-paced training and race days.
For some, it will serve as a fine shoe for distances from 10K to 10 or 13.1 miles.
The lucky individuals who can benefit from a shoe like the FuelCell will no doubt give it a high rating – something in the low to mid-90s.
But most runners need something with more cushioning, flexibility and responsiveness. I found no spring and no “bounce-back” energy return in the FuelCell. It is a strikingly, and often shockingly and punishingly, firm shoe.
Perhaps New Balance will improve the shoe by adding Fresh Foam or REVlite cushioning to the midsole. And adding flex grooves to the forefoot, and more durable rubber that meets the road.
Until then, it is a high-priced shoe that fails to meet the needs of most runners.