The New Balance SC Elite v4 is a major update on the SC Elite v3, with a new Peba-based foam in the midsole delivering a bouncy and fast ride. It’s one of the most comfortable carbon racers available, and will serve marathon runners well, but there are super-shoes that I’d pick ahead of it on performance, such as the Nike Alphafly 3.
- Bouncy midsole foam
- Fast ride for longer races
- Heavier than rivals
- Other racers are better for short events
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The New Balance FuelCell SC Elite line has changed a lot with each generation and the SC Elite v4 is a significant update on the 3, with a new midsole foam and redesigned geometry. It’s heavier than previous models but the new foam delivers more bounce, and the SC Elite v4 is undoubtedly a fast shoe.
It’s hard to say where it sits among the best carbon plate running shoes, however. The SC Elite v4 is a great marathon running shoe, and its high level of comfort may make it more inviting to slower amateur runners than other super-shoes. But on pure performance I rate other racers more highly, including the Nike Vaporfly and Alphafly 3.
New Balance FuelCell SC Elite v4: Price And Availability
The New Balance SC Elite v4 goes on sale on February 1 and will cost $250 in the US and £260 in the UK. It’s a little more expensive than the SC Elite v3 and costs more than some notable carbon plate shoes including the Nike Vaporfly 3.
How I Tested This Shoe
I’ve run 30 miles in the SC Elite v4: a 90-minute long run, a track session doing threshold mile reps and a 10-mile progression run. I have also tested the three previous models of the shoe, and most of the best carbon plate running shoes available from all brands.
Design And Fit
Although it’s still called FuelCell, the foam in the midsole of the SC Elite v4 is different to the FuelCell found in previous versions of the shoe, and across New Balance’s range in general. It’s a Peba-based foam that is the material used in most of the best racing shoes, and it’s lighter and bouncier than foams used in the SC Elite line before this.
The shoe has a full-length carbon plate running through the midsole, and a rocker profile to speed up the transition onto your forefoot with each stride—though this rocker felt less dramatic to me than the one on the New Balance SC Elite v3.
As is the case with most carbon shoes, the SC Elite v4’s stack height is 40mm at the heel, the maximum allowed in road races according to World Athletics regulations. The stack is 36mm at the forefoot for a 4mm drop, which is lower than most super-shoes, though the rocker on the shoe means the drop felt a little higher to me.
At 8.6oz/243g the SC Elite v4 isn’t a weighty shoe, but it is a little heavier than many carbon racers. It’s also heavier than the previous versions of the shoe, perhaps because New Balance has increased the amount of foam underfoot.
The upper is made from a lightweight, breathable mesh. The collar and tongue have minimal padding, and so I have concerns that the heel collar in particular has the potential to rub. I heel-locked the shoe because it felt loose at the back on my first run and haven’t had any problems since. Otherwise, the shoe fitted well in my usual running shoe size.
There’s a deep cut-out running along the middle of the bottom of the shoe that shows off the carbon plate, but aside from that there’s pretty good rubber coverage on the outsole, with strips at the back and most of the forefoot covered. I found the SC Elite v4 gripped well in the rain, even on a greasy track surface.
The SC Elite v4 delivers in the way you’d expect a chunky carbon super-shoe to. It’s bouncy and, while it’s not the lightest, once you get up to race pace it feels comfortable to hold that pace for long periods thanks to the springy foam and propulsion from the plate.
On my first run I did 14 miles in 90 minutes, including a five-mile pick up at around 5min 50sec/mile pace. I was running on tired legs after an XC race the day before and the shoe felt comfortable and helped me to push to faster paces.
It felt like a big shoe though, especially when running into the wind. It doesn’t tip you onto your toes as quickly as other carbon shoes, with the pace coming from the bouncy foam. It’s also not the most nimble of shoes, instead shining on long straights on flat asphalt and then feeling cumbersome when rounding corners at speed.
For me the speed sweet spot in shoe was half marathon to marathon pace, and I enjoyed using it for a track session running six mile reps at 5min 30sec/mile pace, with 400m recovery in 95 seconds. The session ended up being 7.8 miles in total where I averaged my marathon pace of around 5min 42sec/mile. The shoe felt brilliant throughout, helping me to cruise through the reps and maintain a good pace through the float recoveries.
It was also comfortable for a long warm-down after that session, which is not always the case with carbon shoes. I think the SC Elite v4 is one of the more comfortable carbon racers and more approachable for slower runners than shoes like the Vaporfly. This was also true of the SC Elite v2, which had a softer, less aggressive ride than the SC Elite v3.
For pure speed over short distances, I prefer the more rockered ride of the SC Elite v3 and, indeed, the SC Elite v1, though the SC Elite v4 is the bounciest version of the shoe yet and the fastest for longer races. I’ve found that the shoe grips well in wet conditions, since I’ve been unfortunate enough to do most of my runs in the shoe in the rain. It’s not too unstable despite the high stack of soft foam, with the central cut-out on the underside of the shoe helping to keep you centered rather than rolling to either side.
Is The New Balance FuelCell SC Elite v4 Worth It?
Competition in the super-shoe market is stiff and since it’s unlikely that most runners will buy more than one or two expensive carbon plate running shoes, it’s hard to recommend buying a shoe that I don’t rate as highly as others.
The New Balance SC Elite v4 is a fantastic racing shoe, especially for the marathon, but I’d use the NIke Vaporfly 3 or Nike Alphafly 3 ahead of it. I also believe other shoes, like the Asics Metaspeed Sky+, Saucony Endorphin Elite and Mizuno Wave Rebellion Pro, are more impressive racers.
Much comes down to personal preference, though, and the SC Elite v4 will undoubtedly help you run fast in races. It’s a more comfortable option than most carbon shoes and, like the Saucony Endorphin Pro 3, it’s a shoe I’d recommend as a first carbon option if you’re concerned that shoes like the Vaporfly will be too aggressive and unstable.
Overall, my first recommendation to most runners seeking a racing shoe would be to try one from Nike, especially since the Vaporfly is cheaper than the SC Elite v4.
Nick Harris-Fry is a journalist who has been covering health and fitness since 2015. Nick is an avid runner, covering 70-110km a week, which gives him ample opportunity to test a wide range of running shoes and running gear. He is also the chief tester for fitness trackers and running watches, treadmills and exercise bikes, and workout headphones.