The much-anticipated FuelCell 996v4, the latest iteration of New Balance’s 996 shoe series, is finally here. Boasting some seriously impressive technological advancements, the shoe is touted as belonging in the ranks of the sport’s highest performing lightweight models. How, exactly? For starters, the shoe weighs significantly less than past versions. A new lightweight and ultra breathable knit material called Hypoknit comprises the shoe’s upper. It’s reinforced by a unique PU Medial Guard around the front of the shoe to protect from any damage caused by toe dragging or other tennis-specific movements. For improved shock absorption, energy return and responsiveness, New Balance has incorporated a full-length FuelCell in the midsole that really sets it apart. NDurance rubber features on the hardest-working parts of the sole, while Lightweight Solid Rubber (LWSR) in low-wear areas keeps the shoe’s weight down. The 996v4’s generous width adds to the shoe’s promise of comfort. Is it all too good to be true? I laced myself up to find out for myself.
I’m a women’s size 8.5 and I wear my tennis shoes both on the court and at the gym for high intensity training classes. I find that my shoe requirements for both activities are remarkably similar so I prefer a shoe that’s lightweight, highly supportive and responsive, all in a comfortable, attractive package. Too much to ask? Nah! This was the first time I’ve ever worn a New Balance shoe so I really didn’t know what to expect. But as soon as I put them on, I had an “ah-ha” moment. Right from the start, the 996v4 was incredibly comfortable. The bridge of my foot is naturally really high, so it can sometimes be a struggle for me to get my foot into some tennis shoes. Once I have them on, I frequently have to loosen the laces way up to accommodate my foot and avoid restricting circulation. Not necessary with the 996v4. The shoe was a breeze to get on and the laces were nice and long. I immediately noticed how roomy the toe box was. The shoe has a standard B width, but felt even wider, so the extra room in the forefoot was awesome from a comfort standpoint. However, it did make me wonder if they’d provide the stability and responsiveness required for lateral movements. Tapering in the midfoot of the upper creates a snug and tucked-in feeling that I hoped would counterbalance any movement in the forefoot. I also liked how the midsole, powered by FuelCell, was firm, yet cushioned and really comfy. My arch felt well supported. Right from the start I felt like this shoe and I would get along just fine.
Performance & Durability
My first impressions of the 996v4 in action were extremely positive. The shoe made me feel fast and light; I felt like I could lean into them right away and really trust them. They were super responsive and I felt my heel and midfoot were well supported. I loved how the FuelCell cushioning absorbed the shock of any jumping or running I did, all while allowing me to make explosive movements. The roominess in the forefoot certainly helped keep my foot comfortable. My concerns about it being too roomy proved to be unfounded. My forefoot did move a little but I never felt like I was at risk of twisting an ankle or stumbling. The outsole gripped the court and gym floor really well, but the shoe’s durability remains to be seen. My hopes are high thanks to the sole’s NDurance material, backed by a 6-month durability guarantee, and LWSR, which were designed specifically for the demands of tennis.
The 996v4 has this great Hypoknit material on the upper which makes it light and super breathable. Whether it was at the gym or on the court, I never felt my feet getting overheated or sweaty regardless of how long I was exercising.
These shoes should come with a health warning: they are eye-stingingly BRIGHT. New Balance calls it “guava”, but I think a more appropriate name might be somewhere on the color spectrum between highlighter pink and radioactive orange. There’s a dappling of fuchsia on the back, and some sensible black accents on the sole and logos. Otherwise, its a monochromatic explosion of color. So get used to a steady stream of unsolicited comments from others. And unless you’re someone who tends to dress in equally supercharged colors, then coordinating the shoe with your workout wardrobe might prove a challenge. That said, I really like the shoe’s otherwise streamlined appearance. The Hypoknit upper creates some nice texture, and I like that there’s no trendy, for-the-sake-of-fashion type elements to complicate the design.
The New Balance 996v4 is a terrific, versatile shoe that will elevate your performance, whether it’s at the gym or on the tennis court. Even if you're not a huge fan of this particular color, you can rest easy knowing that New Balance will be releasing new colorways in the future. All in all, it’s ideal for anyone looking for a tennis shoe that’s lightweight, responsive and comfortable. With this shoe, the future of your game (and feet) is bright.
About the Reviewer: Renee Bergere has been playing tennis recreationally for the last 25 years and currently plays at a NTRP 3.5 level. She also runs marathons and follows a high intensity training program called F45.