Our verdict

The New Balance FuelCell 996 v5 is a tennis shoe that steers the nimble 996 line in an unexpected direction. In one fell swoop, it ties up loose ends between comfort and stability without letting go of the speed in its DNA. With its lighter-than-average setup, it delivers agility for those who like to play fast around the court.

Pros

  • Speedy around the court
  • Lightweight build
  • Very grounded feel
  • Lasting outsole (with a 6-month warranty)
  • Stiff and propulsive platform
  • Unmatched upper comfort
  • Wide-foot friendly

Cons

  • Could be more breathable
  • Not much side support

Audience verdict

78
Good!

Who should buy

We believe that the New Balance 996 v5 is an excellent match for the players who:

  • want a speed-oriented shoe that feels light and nimble on the feet
  • prefer a more grounded underfoot experience and better court feel
  • have wide feet as the shoe is available in multiple widths

New Balance FuelCell 996 v5 review

Who should NOT buy

To be honest, it is hard not to enjoy the New Balance FuelCell 996 v5. However, it may leave some people wishing for more if they expect plenty of support and stability. We recommend the ASICS Gel Resolution 9 and the Court FF 3 to these folks.

You might as well prefer the abovementioned shoes if you are an aggressive slider and need better upper reinforcement as well as a slide-friendly outsole.

New Balance FuelCell 996 v5 lab test

Breathability

As the heat started to build up on our playtest, we found our feet wishing for a bit more ventilation. We wouldn't call this New Balance stuffy but it is certainly not highly ventilated either.

In the lab, we used a smoke-pumping machine to test the shoe's ventilation capacity. For this, we filled the shoe's upper with smoke and found that none of it passed through the toebox! Even in the most breathable part of the upper (the tongue), the smoke got out at an inconsistent pace.

The shoe's close competitor, ASICS Solution Speed FF 2 (on the right), is much more breathable

Curious to see where the shoe's ventilation pores are concentrated, we hovered its half-cut upper over the light.

And we couldn't even see them! Small ones can be seen in the tongue but they are not as pronounced as in other tennis shoes. Thus, we had to take some breathability points away, rating the shoe with only 3 out of 5.

To give you an even closer look, we grabbed our microscope.

New Balance FuelCell 996 v5 microscope

Given how densely woven this mesh material is, the openings are too minuscule to let that much air pass through.

New Balance FuelCell 996 v5 microscope upper

Test results
FuelCell 996 v5 3
Average 3.1
Compared to 25 hard court tennis shoes
Number of shoes
1
Breathability
5

Durability

Toebox durability

The toebox of the 996 v5 is quite well reinforced with sturdy overlays around the tip as well as on the medial side. We believe that it's got a sufficient toe drag guard for its weight class.

New Balance FuelCell 996 v5 toebox protection

Just be careful not to slash the areas with exposed mesh fabric. As our Dremel test shows, it is not the most durable material.

Drilling it at the speed of 5K RPM for 12 seconds, the abrasion was notable but not detrimental. But because there was no see-through hole either, we can confidently rate this shoe's toebox durability as 3 out of 5.

New Balance FuelCell 996 v5 Toebox durability

But if this makes you concerned and you want the absolute best protection, we can highly recommend the ASICS Solution Speed FF 2.

Test results
FuelCell 996 v5 3
Average 4.1
Compared to 23 hard court tennis shoes
Number of shoes
1
Toebox durability
5

Heel padding durability

As for the abrasion resistance of the inner lining, it showed quite promising results!

Applying the Dremel to the inner side of the heel counter, we drilled the material for 5 seconds at the speed of 5K RPM.

Even though the damage was visible, the collar padding remained relatively intact. This gives us high hopes as forceful movements on the court cause a lot of friction on the interior lining of the heel cup.

New Balance FuelCell 996 v5 Heel padding durability
Test results
FuelCell 996 v5 3
Average 3.3
Compared to 23 hard court tennis shoes
Number of shoes
1
Heel padding durability
5

Outsole hardness

Given the toll that hard court takes on tennis shoes, the outsole of the New Balance 996 v5 proved its ability to sustain the damage.

First of all, it is a very firm rubber compound. Using a durometer, we measured it at 92.0 HC which is among the hardest we've seen in the lab. And in most cases, hard means more durable.

New Balance FuelCell 996 v5 Outsole hardness
Test results
FuelCell 996 v5 92.0 HC
Average 85.8 HC
We use an average of four tests. The photo shows one of those tests.
Compared to 25 hard court tennis shoes
Number of shoes
73.4 HC
Outsole hardness
92.0 HC

Outsole durability

Luckily, this is the case for the 996 v5 as well. As our most demanding durability test showed, the outsole of this New Balance shoe can resist the high-speed drilling of the Dremel with flying colours!

For consistency in test results, we drill every tennis shoe in the same spot while applying the same pressure (3.2N) and speed (10K RPM). We also hold the tool's sandpaper tip against the rubber for 22 seconds.

Once done, we could barely even see the damage on the shoe's outsole. According to our tread gauge, it is a shallow as 0.6 mm which is a fantastic result for a hard-court shoe!

New Balance FuelCell 996 v5 Outsole durability
Test results
FuelCell 996 v5 0.6 mm
Average 0.7 mm
Compared to 23 hard court tennis shoes
Number of shoes
0.0 mm
Outsole wear
2.0 mm

Outsole thickness

But no matter how durable the rubber is, it also must be thick enough to sustain long-term wear and tear. Measuring the shoe's outsole thickness, our calliper showed 4.2 mm. This is exactly what we would expect from a tennis shoe.

Add to that a 6-month outsole durability guarantee and you get a lasting hard-court shoe to enjoy!

New Balance FuelCell 996 v5 Outsole thickness
Test results
FuelCell 996 v5 4.2 mm
Average 4.1 mm
Compared to 25 hard court tennis shoes
Number of shoes
3.0 mm
Outsole thickness
5.1 mm

Weight

As a speed-oriented shoe, we expected the New Balance 996 v5 to feel light on the foot and that's exactly what we got! It kept us nimble through the tennis session.

New Balance FuelCell 996 v5 light

On our scale, we weighed the shoe at 11.9 oz (336g) in a men's US size 9. That's an ounce lighter than the average tennis shoe.

New Balance FuelCell 996 v5 Weight
Test results
FuelCell 996 v5 11.85 oz (336g)
Average 12.84 oz (364g)
Compared to 25 hard court tennis shoes
Number of shoes
10.30 oz (292g)
Weight
14.71 oz (417g)

Cushioning

Heel stack

Players who want to stay fast and shifty on the court feel most at home in a grounded shoe. On foot, the New Balance 966 v5 feels quite bottom-light but we tooled up with a calliper to measure its precise stack height.

With a heel stack of 28.1 mm, this NB shoe is on the lower end of the spectrum.

New Balance FuelCell 996 v5 Heel stack
Test results
FuelCell 996 v5 28.1 mm
Average 29.3 mm
Compared to 25 hard court tennis shoes
Number of shoes
25.3 mm
Heel stack
33.0 mm

Forefoot stack

Under the ball of the foot, our calliper showed 19.8 mm which is an average amount of forefoot cushioning for a tennis shoe.

It felt supportive on split steps and made us feel in control of quick direction changes.

New Balance FuelCell 996 v5 Forefoot stack
Test results
FuelCell 996 v5 19.8 mm
Average 19.7 mm
Compared to 25 hard court tennis shoes
Number of shoes
17.0 mm
Forefoot stack
23.4 mm

Drop

What makes the New Balance 996 v5 feel so wonderfully intimate with the court is a fairly low difference in the heel and forefoot stack heights.

New Balance FuelCell 996 v5 agile

While 60% of tennis shoes have a drop of 9 mm or more, the 996 v5 comes in at 8.3 mm. If you are coming from a shoe like the Adidas Ubersonic (drop: 12.2 mm), you will definitely notice the difference. It feels as if your foot sits flat on the midsole as opposed to having a more cushioned and elevated heel.

We found this setup more optimal for agility and moving a lot from the net back to the baseline.

New Balance FuelCell 996 v5 Drop
Test results
FuelCell 996 v5 8.3 mm
Average 9.7 mm
Compared to 25 hard court tennis shoes
Number of shoes
6.3 mm
Drop
12.4 mm

Midsole softness

Note: a low durometer measurement equals a soft material, whereas a high measurement means it's firm.

This tennis shoe from New Balance employs a full-length FuelCell foam for cushioning. Familiar with this material from NB running shoes, we have grown fond of the cloud-like feeling it delivers.

And it delivers the same heavenly comfort in the 996 v5 tennis shoe! It is the kind of shoe that you don't want to take off immediately after the session is over. We believe that tennis coaches may benefit from the all-day goodness of this shoe.

New Balance FuelCell 996 v5 Midsole softness
Test results
FuelCell 996 v5 33.5 HA
Average 29.2 HA
We use an average of four tests. The photo shows one of those tests.
Compared to 25 hard court tennis shoes
Number of shoes
21.5 HA
Midsole softness (soft to firm)
34.0 HA

Insole thickness

The underfoot comfort of this New Balance shoe is amplified by a very well-padded insole. Our calliper shows 4.4 mm of thickness in the heel area which is a good amount for a tennis shoe.

New Balance FuelCell 996 v5 Insole thickness
Test results
FuelCell 996 v5 4.4 mm
Average 5.3 mm
Compared to 25 hard court tennis shoes
Number of shoes
3.9 mm
Insole thickness
8.5 mm

Stability

Lateral stability test

The New Balance 996 v5 is not the shoe to rely on if you seek excellent arch support. You can see from our side-to-side shifting test that there is a lot of ankle play going on.

Don't get us wrong, this NB shoe has a very stable platform but there is just not a lot of support around the ankle and on the sides of the shoe.

That's why we cannot recommend this model to folks with excessive pronation and other foot conditions that require extra support.

One of the most stable tennis shoes is the ASICS Resolution 9

Torsional rigidity

While it looks ridiculous, the chicken-foot shank inside the shoe's midsole actually creates a stable base. Its three "branches" point in different directions, creating a pretty stable push-off area.

New Balance FuelCell 996 v5 shank

It also gives the shoe its torsional rigidity which we rated quite high on our stiffness index. Where 5 is maximum stiffness, we gave it a score of 4.

Test results
FuelCell 996 v5 4
Average 4.2
Compared to 25 hard court tennis shoes
Number of shoes
1
Torsional rigidity
5

Heel counter stiffness

The heel counter is one of the areas where the NB 996 v5 cuts corners on support. It is soft and comfy but there is not much structural integrity here.

Pushing and squeezing it in our manual test, we rated its stiffness with a moderate score of 3 out of 5. Given that tennis shoes average at 4, this New Balance shoe is on the more forgiving side.

This is not bad news, especially for players who prefer the manoeuvrability to a super tight heel hold. It is more of a warning to those who rely heavily on support in this area.

Test results
FuelCell 996 v5 3
Average 3.9
Compared to 25 hard court tennis shoes
Number of shoes
1
Heel counter stiffness
5

Midsole width in the forefoot

The platform of this tennis shoe is not the widest for sure. But in the forefoot, it features a much-needed outrigger to stabilise the foot as it jumps forcefully to the side. Fast-paced cutting felt very supported in the 996 v5.

Measuring the distance between the widest points of the forefoot, our calliper showed 113.5 mm. That is within the typical width range of court shoes.

New Balance FuelCell 996 v5 Midsole width in the forefoot
Test results
FuelCell 996 v5 113.5 mm
Average 111.7 mm
Compared to 25 hard court tennis shoes
Number of shoes
105.3 mm
Midsole width in the forefoot
117.4 mm

Midsole width in the heel

However, in the heel, the landing area is not so wide. Based on our measurement, it is only 83.6 mm. That's narrower than the similarly built shoes like the Adidas Adizero Ubersonic 4.1 (88.4 mm) and the SoleMatch Control (90.3 mm).

The New Balance 996 v5 is a shoe for players who stay on their toes a lot.

New Balance FuelCell 996 v5 Midsole width in the heel
Test results
FuelCell 996 v5 83.6 mm
Average 89.7 mm
Compared to 25 hard court tennis shoes
Number of shoes
82.4 mm
Midsole width in the heel
99.7 mm

Flexibility

Stiffness

The chicken-foot shank doesn't go unnoticed in the New Balance 996 v5. In addition to stabilising the midsole, its stiffness helps to create propulsion that encourages quicker foot transitions.

A rolled shape of the shoe's heel also helps the foot to roll from heels to toes more easily.

But how stiff are we talking? Based on the measurement of our force gauge, it takes 44.9N to bend the 996 v5 to a 90-degree angle. That's a good 25% more than it takes an average tennis shoe!

Test results
FuelCell 996 v5 44.9N
Average 30.1N
We use an average of four tests. The video shows one of those tests.
Compared to 25 hard court tennis shoes
Number of shoes
20.6N
Stiffness
44.9N

Grip / Traction

Start-and-stop felt incredibly surefooted in the New Balance 996 v5. It is a wonderfully sticky shoe for hard courts.

But if you are an avid slider, think twice before getting this tennis shoe model. The toe dragging felt too bumpy for our liking.

Size and fit

Toebox width at the widest part

No matter what your foot width is, New Balance is always a safe brand to rely on. Our medium feet were more than happy with the room offered in a standard D width. And the upper seems to have broken in a bit during the playtest as well.

New Balance FuelCell 996 v5 fit

Measuring the widest part of the shoe's toebox, our calliper showed 98.8 mm which is a regular width for a tennis shoe in this size.

And if you need more, this version of the 996 is also available in 2E wide and 4E extra wide.

New Balance FuelCell 996 v5 Toebox width at the widest part
Test results
FuelCell 996 v5 98.8 mm
Average 101.2 mm
Compared to 25 hard court tennis shoes
Number of shoes
98.2 mm
Toebox width at the widest part
105.0 mm

Toebox width at the big toe

There is no aggressive tapering at the tip of the toebox either. Putting the calliper at the big toe mark, it returned 77.3 mm. That means no pointy toes!

New Balance FuelCell 996 v5 Toebox width at the big toe
Test results
FuelCell 996 v5 77.3 mm
Average 76.8 mm
Compared to 25 hard court tennis shoes
Number of shoes
74.8 mm
Toebox width at the big toe
79.8 mm

Tongue: gusset type

Tongue gussets are always such a welcome feature in a tennis shoe! In the 996 v5, it is semi-gusseted and stretchy which translates to a secure foothold and zero sliding of the tongue!

New Balance FuelCell 996 v5 Tongue: gusset type
Test results
FuelCell 996 v5 Both sides (semi)

Comfort

Tongue padding

The shoe's interiors may not be as padded as in some other tennis shoes but boy are they plush!

The 996 v5 feels amazingly soft against the foot. And even though our calliper showed only 5.9 mm, it was more than enough to prevent lace bites and pressure.

New Balance FuelCell 996 v5 Tongue padding
Test results
FuelCell 996 v5 5.9 mm
Average 7.8 mm
Compared to 25 hard court tennis shoes
Number of shoes
2.5 mm
Tongue padding
13.1 mm

Heel tab

No pull tabs on the New Balance 996 v5! Gotta use both of those hands.

New Balance FuelCell 996 v5 Heel tab
Test results
FuelCell 996 v5 None

Removable insole

The shoe's insole is easy to remove in case you want to level up the comfort with a custom insert.

New Balance FuelCell 996 v5 Removable insole
Test results
FuelCell 996 v5 Yes