Despite the fact that writing about a shoe with a name as long as this one legitimately threatens a carpal tunnel flare-up, I was excited to test out the New Balance FuelCell SuperComp Elite v4. That said, I will mostly be referring to it as the SC Elite v4 moving forward…
Now, as a very average runner (which might even be a generous way to put it on some days), I didn’t experience the same disappointment some (i.e. faster) runners did when it came to the midsole of the previous version, the SC Elite v3. Don’t get me wrong, there were certainly things about the shoe I wanted to see improved (namely, the upper’s design, which we’ll get into more in a second). But overall, the SC Elite v3 treated me well last year, and I really enjoyed running in it. Its fit, top-notch comfort, and smooth ride made it my choice for a fall half marathon.
The SC Elite v4 represents a complete overhaul this year, with significant changes to pretty much every aspect of the shoe. Truly, if I were to take you through a point-by-point comparison of the Elite v3 vs the Elite v4, it would be tough to see what the two shoes have in common beyond their stack heights – at least on paper.
So, did this massive update render the shoe unrecognizable? Or does the SC Elite v4 stand as an example of evolution for the better?
New Balance FuelCell SC Elite v4
Release Date: February 1, 2024
Weight: Men’s 8.2 oz., Women’s 6.6 oz.
Sizing: True to size
- Rundown: The New Balance FuelCell SC Elite v4 is a complete overhaul this year with improved cushioning and a better upper.
The upper is where I was really hoping New Balance would change things up from the SC Elite v3, and I wasn’t disappointed. While the v3’s upper thankfully never caused me blisters like it did for many runners, I did find the engineered knit, one-piece design lacking when it came to being able to cinch down the midfoot with any specificity.
The SC Elite v4 uses what New Balance calls Fantomfit technology to give the new thin mesh upper structure where it’s needed. The lacing chain felt really dialed in and well-spaced with how it drew the foot snugly onto the footbed with no added lace pressure. The result was the more customizable and secure midfoot lockdown I craved in the v3.
And rest assured, the tongue performs a lot better than it looks. There’s a joke in there somewhere, but I shan’t attempt to make it (Editor’s Note: insert Michael Scott yelling “that’s what she said”). Anyway, the tongue is separate (i.e. not gusseted) and has a tendency to curl under when not on-foot; and it looks and feels less elegant than the rest of the upper. But it was easy to get in place when slipping on the shoe, and it never failed to do its job on the run.
While the midfoot lockdown was resolved, I would be remiss to not mention one issue I had with the upper. The issue only showed itself when two conditions were present: 1) extremely wet conditions, and 2) extremely cold temperatures. In those instances, when the upper got soaked through and my feet were far too cold to swell at all, I did start to feel the collar bowing and loosening over the course of longer such runs.
I never experienced outright heel lift, and it didn’t affect my ability to run in those conditions. But it became distracting enough that I ended up opting for a runner’s knot on runs when I knew I might encounter that combination of factors.
Speaking of weather conditions, the upper is very breathable (to the point that testing the SC Elite v4 during a multi-week arctic blast this January posed a legitimate danger to my digits). But that excellent breathability will no doubt be extremely welcome on the average race day.
I wouldn’t normally bust out a road racing shoe to traverse roads covered in packed snow, but, as noted above, the midwestern winter didn’t leave me much choice in the matter. Even under such unreasonable demands, the SC Elite v4’s outsole acquitted itself quite well.
Snow aside, it also performed excellently across wet surfaces in general. The exception to that was a rain-soaked, wooden pedestrian bridge where I experienced some slipping when taking a curve at tempo effort. But overall, the new traction pattern and small increase in rubber coverage performed well. The only wear I’ve seen thus far is some superficial fraying of the small area of exposed midsole material that took some extra abuse via midfoot striking.
Let’s get to that midsole, though…
The midsole foam in the SC Elite v4 is now made of 100% PEBA, a first for New Balance. And along with carving out portions of that shiny new midsole, the brand has thinned and reshaped the carbon fiber plate. Surprisingly, I also felt the midfoot gained some stability, which was most noticeable when cornering.
Bottom line, it works. The setup leads to a bouncy, dynamic ride with a more pronounced toe spring than in the previous version (side note: that toe spring became blatantly apparent when I first laced up the SC Elite v4 and walked down a flight of stairs; but, while harrowing, that is perhaps neither here nor there).
Now, the SC Elite v3 had a consistent character and ride experience regardless of the paces I happened to be running or whether I strayed forward or backward from my midfoot strike. The ride itself just never deviated much for me and instead stayed smooth, cruisy, and forgiving yet with an understated bit of pep.
By contrast, the SC Elite v4 not only had something of a sweet spot for me (in that it seemed to vibe best with mid and forefoot striking), but it also responded much more dynamically to the effort level I put into it.
To be clear, I never felt at odds with the SC Elite v4 if my strike moved back. But for me, staying dialed into the front two-thirds (or so) of the shoe produced noticeably more pop. The shoe then naturally gravitated toward marathon and half-marathon paces and was happy to hold there steadily for lots of miles. The same was true for tempo runs and faster, sharper efforts like interval work.
Because of all that, I have a feeling those runners who may have loved the squish of the SC Elite v3 but felt like they never got enough energy back will be very happy with where New Balance has taken the SC Elite v4.
So, the comfort is still here. And I’m likewise happy to report that even as a 5’ tall, middle(ish)-of-the-pack runner, I was still able to leverage the carbon fiber plate enough to truly enjoy the SC Elite v4’s newfound bounce and drive. As Liz Lemon would say, “I can have it all!”
Is the New Balance SC Elite v4 wide foot friendly?
While this upper is vastly different (and much improved) when compared to its predecessor, I found the overall fit/sizing consistent with both the SC Elite v3 and the RC Elite v2. That fit happens to be very comfortable to my average-to-slightly-wide forefoot.
I don’t believe that New Balance has any plans to offer an actual wide version (Editor’s Note: we’ve just heard that New Balance will release a wide version at some point but the exact timing is TBD) . But I do think the tooling of the SC Elite v4, even with its now more structured Fantomfit upper, will allow some wide footers to get enough comfort from it for their races. But given the price, I would urge wide-footers to only take that chance on the SC Elite v4 if purchasing from somewhere with a generous trial period. Always better to be safe than sorry.
And one last note on sizing: some may find the length a tiny bit short. That’s actually perfect in my case, since I’m often “small/short for my size” as someone who goes up a half size in my running shoes. But you might just want to keep it in mind with regard to where your own personal sizing tends to fall.
Is the New Balance SC Elite v4 worth $250?
It ain’t pretty, but it’s appropriate compared to its same-priced peers. In the case of the SC Elite v4, the $250 price tag represents a $20 increase over the previous version. But the v4 does provide better performance with better midsole material than the v3, and it’s now much more of a true competitor to those other super shoes at its price point.
So, if you can swing it, I think the SC Elite v4 is a great shoe. But no one should ever feel less-than for running in whatever fits their feet and fits within their life and goals, race or no-race.
New Balance FuelCell SC Elite v4 Summary
The SC Elite v4 retains the comfort and approachability of the previous model, but it ups the ante with a lot more pop and snappier geometry that will please many. If the standard super shoe price is within your means, it’s a really solid race shoe that loves the groove of marathon, half-marathon, and tempo paces. It will be appearing on both our best marathon running shoes and best New Balances running shoes lists.
Ultimately, I think New Balance has managed to find the…umm, balance…between comfort and performance more successfully here. The SC Elite v4 is still friendly to runners of different experience levels, but it doesn’t sacrifice that something extra we hope to get from a racing shoe.
How does the Author Run?
Drew Whitcomb (age 42, 6’6″ 195lbs): Runs daily with a once a week rest day. Runs a lot of miles due to testing needs and a growing affinity for long-distance races. Regularly competes in marathons, half-marathons, 10k, and 5k races.
While New Balance did send a pair of the SC Elite v4 to facilitate this review, they had no involvement in this review, didn’t receive an advance look at it, and have not attempted to influence it.