DAVE: Recently we talked to New Balance about the FuelCell midsole compound, since we noticed it felt different in a variety of shoes. And it’s true, the FuelCell’s durometer (measure of hardness in rubber, plastic, or nonmetallic material) can range from firm to soft to somewhere in the middle. In fact, the FuelCell can swing 10 durometer points from one model to the next. In some ways, it’s kind of versatile, but it’s also hard to tell what kind of FuelCell you’ll be getting in a shoe. So if I’m honest, it can be a little bit confusing.
Since spending some time (not a ton) in FuelCell products like the Rebel and Propel V1, I found it to be a pretty soft midsole that lacked some life, at least on the Rebel. What was weird is that the Rebel, which was supposed to be the faster more versatile shoe, beat the livin’ hell out of my knees. It was sloppy and felt mechanically inefficient, which is how I feel in most HOKA models (except for the Carbon X). To me, there was nothing fast about the Rebel. I was disappointed because the actual fit was like a racing flat from the late ‘90s. Could almost go sockless.
Move on to the Propel V1, the traditional higher mileage shoe. One would think this would’ve been the marshmallow, right? The slower and sloppier shoe. Well, it wasn’t. It was a pure delight! A beautifully, almost rockered, higher-cush shoe that rolled along effortlessly. And while it was somewhat soft, it was awake. It packed a good amount of pop off the forefoot, encouraged solid knee lift and drive, and my legs were fresh as a daisy on runs of all distances. It also worked mechanically so that it was a great option for a fast finish tacked onto the end of a weekend long run, or even a recovery day option. A ton of bang for your buck.
All that to say, my experience with FuelCell is that the faster stuff feels awful and the more traditional like trainers tend to work well.
How does the new FuelCell Propel V2 line up? Let’s find out.
DAVE: Let’s start with underfoot– this is what I wanted the Rebel to feel like! It seems like the Propel V2 is a beefed-up Rebel. In reality, it feels nothing like the original Propel. Look at the outsole geometry– it’s a Rebel. Combine that with a peppy, responsive version of FuelCell and we have a winner.
Onto the FuelCell– this is what I have been wishing FuelCell would feel like. Smooth is what comes to mind first. From heel to mid load to toe-off, it’s effortless. It really gets you to the toe-off position quickly, and as you toe-off, it provides a great knee lift and drive similar to the Propel V1, but this time it’s much more explosive. Allows that critical forward lean to your mechanics and feels a lot like M strike from Skechers Performance.
The weight comes in at 9.5 oz. (270g) which is on the lighter side of a daily trainer range, but let me be the first to tell you that it disappears on your feet.
My only issue with Propel V1 was its lacing and tongue. I have a narrow foot, and even with the shoe laced-up, I had enough left over to span the length of the Pacific Crest Trail. The tongue, in typical NB fashion, was as thick as an East LA burrito and the laces could not get around it. Good news, this is all fixed! The lacing is much shorter and the tongue is more aligned with a performance trainer. It lays beautifully across the top of your foot, which allows the laces to do their thing.
Is it fast? Surprisingly, should you want to drop the hammer down a bit, the P2 can move. I have no problem actually doing a Tempo or Fartlek in this shoe. It’s that smooth and likes to monkey around with pace.
Lastly, I’m kinda digging the wrapped “NB” logo across the top of the “throat” of the shoe. A new look for New Balance? Maybe, but it works.
MEAGHAN: New Balance is churning out some FuelCell this year! The New Balance Propel V2 is a daily trainer that’s great for faster days. This variation of the FuelCell midsole is pretty firm. In a good way. It’s responsive and provides a nice pop on toe-off. The outsole is covered in NDurance rubber, so you get plenty of traction and durability. Even with full rubber coverage, the shoes are pretty light. My W7.5 came in just over 8oz.
The upper is an engineered mesh bootie construction that hugs the foot nicely. It’s got plenty of volume for my wide feet and the flat laces do a nice job of locking the foot down. The collar and tongue have just enough cushioning; it’s not super plush, but it’s comfortable and light. I’m digging the NB logo across the midfoot. I don’t think it serves a purpose, but it looks nice.
THOMAS: The FuelCell Prism midsole firmness mixed with the rubber outsole coverage worked better than both this year’s New Balance FuelCell Prism or 890v8. While the 890 was too firm and the Prism was too soft, the Propel V2 feels right in the middle. I don’t think it is purely the FuelCell, I believe it is the outsole and the midsole working together to give a better underfoot experience.
The upper is seamless and fits true to size. Highlights include the lightly padded tongue, sock-like softness over the vamp, and a gently padded heel counter. I had no issues with the upper or any problems with heel lift.
Running in the Propel V2 is smooth– the upper, midsole, and outsole all work together to make a well-cushioned daily trainer.Shop NB FuelCell Propel V2 – Men Shop NB FuelCell Propel V2 – Women
DAVE: I really have no issues with Propel V2. Other than the fact I think the women’s white colorway is leaps and bounds better than the men’s grey. That colorway is about as stale as the pizza from a 7-11 warming rack.
MEAGHAN: I don’t think this shoe is as versatile as NB claims it to be. It definitely performs best at moderate to fast paces, rather than easy and recovery runs. The firm midsole and responsive ride felt great on fast days, but not so much on tired legs and recovery runs when I was craving a bit softer cushioning.
THOMAS: I’m not loving the upper materials New Balance is using this year, they look and feel a little cheap. I would love to see some experimentation with both mesh styles and colors. Between the battleship colorway and the crunchy feel of the mesh, it was hard to get excited about putting these on.Shop NB FuelCell Propel V2 – Men Shop NB FuelCell Propel V2 – Women
DAVE: What you got here is a beefed-up Rebel. And if you are looking for that soft feel, keep moving along. This is firm, snappy, and made to be quite the efficient daily trainer. I see no problem in running 20+ (I ran 13 out of the box) and wouldn’t hesitate to rock this on a recovery day too.
I’m still confused as all hell with New Balance and its many versions of FuelCell, so who knows what the Rebel 2 will be like, but well done on this shoe. If you can continue to show a greater differentiation between models that would help too. Because right now, a lot of stuff blends together.
MEAGHAN: I can usually tell from step-in whether or not I’m going to enjoy a shoe. This was true with the Propel, which I took out for a 15-mile run out of the box. They felt great from start to finish and they’ve remained in my rotation ever since. If you prefer a firm ride or want a shoe to use on faster days, I would definitely recommend the Propel V2.
THOMAS: Last year New Balance cranked out hit after hit. This year, I’m having trouble landing a suicide squeeze bunt from the FuelCell line. The 890 was too hard underfoot, the Prism lacked pop, and while the Propel V2 is the best of those three, it still left me wanting. There is nothing fundamentally wrong with this trainer. It just lacked that intangible excitement that gets me pumped to run miles in a shoe. “It’s not you, it’s me.”
That said, the $100 price point makes it a great choice for the bargain hunter. I am not taking price point into consideration while I gather my thoughts. If I add the price point in as a feature, the shoe goes up a few notches.
There is some good news for New Balance fans, if you’re looking for some magic: The Fresh Foam X Beacon 3 has it (review coming soon). It has the potential to be one of my top trainers of the year. Stay tuned for that.
You can pick up the New Balance FuelCell Propel V2 (in a much more appealing men’s colorway) for $100 at Running Warehouse (featuring free 2-day shipping and 90-day returns) by using the shop link below.Shop NB FuelCell Propel V2 – Men Shop NB FuelCell Propel V2 – Women