This budget trainer has the durability (and versatility) for a different workout every day of the week.
The RW Takeaway: If you’re a budget-minded runner who only wants one pair of trainers in the closet, grab the Propel. It handles speedwork, long runs, and easy efforts with the durability to go without a rest day.
- FuelCell midsole feels responsive with more energy return
- Trace Fiber upper offers support without bulky overlays
- Grippy outsole rubber impressed testers in wet conditions
Weight: 260 g(M), 212 g(W)
Remember the days when New Balance was mostly dad shoes and daily trainers? Of course, you can still get those classics, but there’s no denying that the new FuelCell line is a glow up. The Propel reminds us a lot of the go-fast Rebel, but this shoe is more equipped for everyday runs rather than racing, although according to our testers, it certainly won’t shy away from speedwork or a start line. “This shoe felt lighter than it was, springy, and responsive,” one tester said. “The cushioning was spot on and the ride was soft. It made me want to crank up the speed.”
The Propel weighs in about an ounce heavier than the Rebel, and relies on a slightly stiffer midsole to deliver a snappy toe-off, but it’s just as lively on foot. At $20 cheaper, it drops a few of the Rebel’s perks (like a bootie construction, engineered mesh, and extra outsole rubber), but you won’t miss them much on daily runs; the traction still performs, the fit stays secure, and the cushioning remains suitable for longer efforts. One thing’s for certain, these aren’t your dad’s old pair of grass-stained 608s.
Versatile FuelCell Cushioning
On foot, the FuelCell foam feels responsive and energetic, but not quite as soft as New Balance’s Fresh Foam offering. The overall experience is more propulsive and snappy, rather than cushioned with a healthy bounce. (If the latter is more your style, check out the new Fresh Foam Beacon v2.) However, our testers found that the Propel still has plenty of softness and cushioning for long runs, with the chops to handle faster speeds on the oval.
“The New Balance Propel has a perfect amount of cushioning for my feet—it felt light and springy right from the start,” a tester said. “I ran mostly on roads and sidewalks for 5 to 6 miles most days of the week, with longer 10- to 12-mile runs on the weekend, and the shoe felt great on the track for speed workouts.”
One important note is that our stack height measurements in the RW Lab didn’t quite match up to New Balance’s site information. We measured the Propel’s heel-to-toe drop at 9mm—a sizable difference from NB’s 6mm—which may be noticeable to some runners.
When a shoe’s price dips down to about a Benjamin, we sometimes expect to see a little less resilience on the outsole. Not so with the Propel. Even at $160, the tread still uses a lightweight layer of NDurance solid rubber with three different lugged patterns on the heel, forefoot, and outer edge. Our testers were impressed by both its durability in wet weather and its grip on slick roads, grass, and even tamer trails.
“It rained all day, every day the first week of testing and I never felt like I was going to slip on wet pavement. My feet were completely submerged in puddles that week, but the wet shoes didn’t feel overly heavy,” one tester said. “The Propels seemed to ‘drain’ very nicely—I left them in the garage overnight to dry and they were ready to wear the next day. These shoes held up great.”
Look Fast, Feel Fast Upper
Instead of heavy overlays, the Propel uses thicker stitching at the midfoot and heel to create zones of extra support. The stitch material, called Trace Fiber, helps give the shoe’s upper a secure fit and a little stretch without engineered mesh. (For our neutral-footed testers, this design offered plenty of structure, but overpronators found it somewhat lacking in midfoot support.) In addition, the forefoot felt wide and accommodating with comfort that bunion-and-black-toenail-prone runners welcomed. Only one tester had an issue with the shoe’s single overlay, which seemed to limit some expansion at the toe box.
The bungee-styled eyelets made it difficult for two testers to lock in snug fits initially. One runner would find himself sliding forward occasionally in the shoe and another needed several reties before feeling secure. That said, neither found that the issues persisted enough to interfere on the run as they continued to break in the shoe.
Wear Tester Feedback
Brian S., tester since 2016
Arch: Medium | Pronation: Neutral | Footstrike: Midfoot
“The cushion is responsive and comfortable, the outsole was great on all surfaces tested, and the durability seems great. The shoe shows no signs of wear, and because of its construction, I believe it will last for many miles.”