The world's most in-depth and scientific reviews of outdoor gear

New Balance FuelCell Impulse Review

A surprisingly natural ride with just enough cushion to keep your soles happy.
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Price:  $120 List | $64.96 at Backcountry
Pros:  Surprisingly light, quite natural-feeling, super fast.
Cons:  Limited support, less protective upper, not as responsive
Manufacturer:   New Balance
By Ryan Baham ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  Sep 30, 2019
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73
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#9 of 17
  • Responsiveness - 25% 6
  • Landing comfort - 25% 7
  • Weight - 20% 9
  • Durability - 10% 7
  • Upper comfort - 10% 7
  • Breathability - 10% 8

Our Verdict

With its double jacquard upper, the New Balance FuelCell Impulse is one of the more interesting designs. It's not exactly a minimalist shoe, but it doesn't hamper our movements. The REVlite portion of the midsole is 30% lighter than other foams with similar responsiveness and cushion, so it doesn't feel clunky. It's an ideal running shoe for short, high-cadence, high-pace workouts. The FuelCell in its name refers to a nitrogen-infused foam also used in the midsole that provides natural responsiveness, which is to say it has a natural feel, not a plush, cushioned feel. That contributes to how fast they feel.


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Overall Score Sort Icon
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Star Rating
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Pros Surprisingly light, quite natural-feeling, super fast.Flashy, fast, extra comfortable upper and landingStable, super comfortable upper, breathable, stylishAffordable racing flats, more comfortable updated design, lightResponsive, supportive fit, roomy toebox, flashy, lightweight, springy
Cons Limited support, less protective upper, not as responsiveOn the heavier side, can feel too stiff, premium priceClunky, may wear down quickly, priceyLimited durability, less attractive, less responsiveOutsole picks up rocks and gravel, toebox can be too flexible, tongue can rub
Bottom Line A surprisingly natural ride with just enough cushion to keep your soles happy.It doesn’t get much better than these plush speedsters.Best choice for a comfortable, stable distance shoe.Fast racing flats that will get you across the line in comfort.A fast, high performance shoe best suited to mid-distance.
Rating Categories New Balance FuelCell Impulse Nike Air Zoom Vomero 14 Brooks Glycerin 17 Brooks PureFlow 7 On Cloud X
Responsiveness (25%)
10
0
6
10
0
9
10
0
8
10
0
6
10
0
6
Landing Comfort (25%)
10
0
7
10
0
8
10
0
9
10
0
9
10
0
8
Weight (20%)
10
0
9
10
0
7
10
0
7
10
0
8
10
0
9
Durability (10%)
10
0
7
10
0
6
10
0
6
10
0
6
10
0
5
Upper Comfort (10%)
10
0
7
10
0
8
10
0
9
10
0
9
10
0
9
Breathability (10%)
10
0
8
10
0
8
10
0
6
10
0
8
10
0
9
Specs New Balance... Nike Air Zoom... Brooks Glycerin 17 Brooks PureFlow 7 On Cloud X
Weight (oz per pair for size 11) 17.7 oz 22.3 oz 23.2 oz 20.8 oz 17.8 oz
Toe to Heel Drop 6 mm 10 mm 10 mm 4 mm 6 mm
Width Options Regular, Wide Regular, Wide, Extra Wide Regular, Wide Regular Regular
Style (Traditional, Minimalist, etc.) Traditional Traditional Neutral Neutral Neutral
Sizes Available 7 - 16 6 - 15 7 - 15 7 - 14 7-13
Upper Material Synthetic mesh Mesh Synethetic Stretch weave Synthetic
Midsole Material FuelCell REVlite Nike React DNA Loft BioMoGo DNA EVA
Sole Rubber Rubber Rubber Rubber Blown carbon Rubber

Our Analysis and Test Results

New Balance puts out a vast range of unique running designs and the FuelCell Impulse is no departure. It falls into the category of lightweight racing flat and tends toward the minimalist side except that it uses a bootie to hug the ankle and help stabilize the shoe. It has a very natural feel to it, with just enough padding in the upper to prevent chafe and remain comfortable. The thin midsole is also a bit spartan, but that contributes to the natural-feel and speed you can kick out. They were strong contenders for Lightweight Racing Flats, but a few other models did just a bit better and edged them out with superior comfort and responsiveness.

Performance Comparison


We broke the FuelCell Impulse down across a handful of measures to reveal their performance and value.

Responsiveness


These kicks have a somewhat stiff midsole paired with a free-feeling upper, resulting in one of the more natural-feeling road running shoes. They have a slightly above-average score here, which is what you'd expect in a racing flat like these. They use a midsole the combines REVlite, which is a cushy modified EVA-based material to reduce weight without sacrificing cushion, and Fuelcell, which is a firm nitrogen-infused TPU. The result is that it feels more compact than other foam midsoles, largely owing to the Fuelcell portion. And that means they feel fast, but don't expect to get the bounce you'd get from a big stability model with a 35mm midsole.

The thin REVlite midsole did a fine job of cushioning without sapping away energy.
The thin REVlite midsole did a fine job of cushioning without sapping away energy.

Landing Comfort


The free-feeling upper and firm midsole make this shoe feel more like a barefoot shoe. There's slightly more padding in the heel, so the landing is nicer, but if you're a dedicated heel-planter and trotting heavily, these could feel a bit rough for you. If you land a little farther up on your foot, you won't have any issues with these, but that's the general story for most lightweight racing flats.

Weight


The FuelCell Impulse is one of the lightest racing flats in our review, coming in at 17.7 ounces in a pair of men's 11. It gets there both by design and materials. The upper is pretty spartan, using a fine, form-fitting mesh with a tight bootie at the ankle instead of thick, heavy padding. The midsole is comparatively thin, so the total mass is reduced, but the REVlite material is also reportedly 30% lighter than comparable foams, so that goes a long way to reducing weight too. That's a major contributor to the natural feel of the shoe and one of the big reasons we liked running in these so much - they almost feel like running in socks.

At 17.7 ounces in a pair of men's 11  these are among the lightest racing flats in our review.
At 17.7 ounces in a pair of men's 11, these are among the lightest racing flats in our review.

Durability


Obviously, a super-light shoe made out of light materials will not be the strongest kick out there, but they use long-lasting engineered mesh and a REVlite midsole that's stronger than comparable foam midsoles for its weight. And the engineered mesh design is more resistant to tears and usually lasts for a good while if you don't live too far on the edge. It's an all-around great shoe with a natural fit that should last at least a few seasons.

Upper Comfort


New Balance tends to make comfortable uppers using just a bit of structure and lean materials. It feels like a tougher water shoe, fitting like a glove made of strong mesh and a bit of 3D print for reinforcement. They use a double jacquard upper to hug the ankle and provide just a bit more stability. The look might not be for everyone, but we think it's pretty cool. Aside from that design aspect, they don't have much in the way of support, which also leaves them feeling more free, natural, and therefore comfortable. They might not suit runners looking for tons of padding in the upper, but they're great for lightweight racing flats. If you're after more padding in the upper, you might consider a plush model like the Brooks Glycerin 17, our Top Pick for Comfort.

Breathability


Unsurprisingly, the Fuelcell Impulse is one of the most breathable shoes because it uses very little extra padding, instead choosing form-fitting mesh for most of its upper. The only reason it doesn't score higher is simply because the bootie rides a little high and most of the heel is reinforced with impermeable 3D print, so it holds a little more moisture and heat than it would otherwise. That said, it's extremely breezy, and even in black, it didn't feel especially hot or damp on long, sunny runs.

These kicks were plenty breathable out in the heat and sun.
These kicks were plenty breathable out in the heat and sun.

Value


The ask isn't a terrible price to pay, but that's a bit of a premium to ask for these. For that price, you could almost buy the Brooks Hyperion, if you're after a racing flat.

Conclusion


We liked taking these out for shorter runs and even to the gym or out on evening walks. They're certainly good shoes with great design features, particularly the bootie, but full time, serious runners might want just a little more in their shoe. These are great for occasional or short-distance runners looking for a light shoe to pound out a quick 5K or a runner that wants to feel locked in up top near the ankle with lots of toebox space and freedom along the rest of the foot.

The FuelCell Impulses are fast enough for a sprint  but comfortable enough for hours at pace.
The FuelCell Impulses are fast enough for a sprint, but comfortable enough for hours at pace.


Ryan Baham