In 2015 New Balance rolled out the second generation of their Fresh Foam running shoe line and with it, one of the most popular shoes of the year, the Fresh Foam Zante [REVIEW]. Coming on the heels of the first generation of Fresh Foam shoes and the oddly-marketed Fresh Foam 980 (now known as the Fresh Foam Boracay – LINK) the Zante was a fantastic combination of light and responsive with the desire to rip off some fast miles. Today we’re going to look at the second version of one of our Road Shoes of the Year for 2015 (a title shared with the Vazee Pace, also from New Balance) and see how the Zante 2 has evolved from is forbear.
At first glance, the outsole of the Zante 2 is almost identical to the original Zante. However, upon closer inspection while the thickness of the rubber appears to be the same, the lugs are differently sized in places than in the original and their orientation is a bit different (*confirmed with NB). New balance also let us know that these changes were not simply for cosmetic reasons but are based on midfoot data from the original Zante. The pattern etched into the outsole of the Zante 2 – which I think looks like a topographical map – is actually a wink at pressure mapping. Also as with the first New Balance Zante, this outsole of this shoe remains quite simple with natural flexibility and movement inherent in its design.
As far as traction goes the Zante 2 does a very solid job with its full-contact layout and sticky rubber. Even on wet pavement I’ve felt very comfortable and didn’t question my footing at all. As far as durability goes, the Zante 2 is pretty solid but if you’re looking to make it through a full marathon training cycle and race with one pair of shoes, you’ll probably need another pair of these standing by.
The midsole of the New Balance Zante 2 is the first place we see any significant change in this shoe – and even that is subtle at best. the first thing I noticed when getting the Zante 2 on my feet was that the midfoot “bump/hump” that some people didn’t like has been shaved down to give a much more flat feeling internally. Another subtle change that has taken place in the midsole is in the arrangement and size of the convex and concave hexagon pattern on the sides of the midsole. As we’ve discussed before, the hexagons are convex or concave depending on what New Balance is going for in the firmness in a given area. In the Zante 2 the hexagons are smaller than the original Zante and the layout the same. The only real exception to this is on the medial (inside) forefoot which has been changed from concave to convex in version 2 of this shoe.
First I have to say that while the midfoot “bump” thing in the original Zante didn’t really bother me, I really like the flatter feel in the Zante 2 a LOT. The fast and smooth transition from the mid or rear foot to the forefoot is still very fast and now even more smooth. One noticeable thing about this shoe – and something I’ll touch on a bit more in the RIDE section below – is the fact that they’re a bit more firm. Now a caveat to that is that they’re not so firm as to knock down the playful and responsive character of the Zante – and truth be told, they’re not THAT much more firm – but Zante lovers who put in a lot of miles in version one of the shoe will notice a bit more subtle firmness underfoot.
For our spec-heads in the crowd, the drop of the Zante 2 remains 6mm, just like version one.
Moving into the upper of the New Balance Zante 2, this is where we see many of the most noticeable changes. First, the mesh in this shoe presents as a much more engineered mesh than the more single-weave mesh of version one and rather than a double-mesh as in version one – the rear half of the shoe was one mesh and the front, another. This means that there is a more single-piece construction though internally there is still a lay-flat seam just below the ankle that is still very comfortable on bare skin with the internal, bootie construction. The support structure of the Zante 2 is a big change from version one with zero stitching and welded overlays fully integrated into the engineered mesh. The lines of these overlays are very sleek and give the shoe a refreshed look and feel while being a fantastic support where the foot needs it.
The heel counter on the Zante 2 has more external structure provided by the overlays in that area while the internal materials seem a bit less rigid (not that they are “rigid” in version one). These things combine into a well balanced feel in the heel cup that can accommodate wider or more narrow heels. Something I am thrilled to see is that the foam in the tongue and in the collar remains perfect for me with not too much volume but just enough to be super comfortable. Something noticeable about the tongue is that there is no lace guide loop. Rather, New Balance has gone with a small, raised pod of foam that has a rubberized texture that simultaneously gives a bit more cushion to a place where some people really hammer down on their laces as well as preventing tongue slide. Interestingly, and probably a nod to the weight gain in the Zante 2 – the Zante 1 weighs in at 8.7 ounces and the Zante 2 is 9.4 ounces, both in men’s size 11 – the sockliner/insole of the Zante 2 is much more thin and flexible. It also weighs exactly the same as its thinner counterpart in version one so the weight thing really doesn’t flesh out.
The upper of the Zante 2 has some fantastic updates to it and while it’s probably one of the places on this shoe where there is a hair of weight gain over version one – the midsole is probably the other place – it’s absolutely a highlight for me. When I want speed from this shoe I get it and never feel compromised by the feel of the upper and it also remains comfortable and solid on longer runs.
The fit of the New Balance Zante 2 maintains all the high points I felt in version one. The heel, with its updated structure, has a very similar feel and as I mentioned above, has enough flexibility to accommodate differently shaped feet. The midfoot fit I loved a lot. While wider feet may not be quite as comfy in this area with standard sizing (there is a 2E version of the Zante 2, so fear not), the internal bootie gives a great cradled feel to the foot enhancing the connected feel with the eliminated midfoot bump. The forefoot remains a high point for me and feels as though it even has a hair more room than in version one of the Zante. I would like to see a couple of millimeters more lateral room but with the flexibility of the mesh in this area, I chalk that up to me almost always wanting more lateral room in shoes. As for sizing, this fits spot on in my size 11’s, the same as in the first Zante.
The ride was the piece of the original New Balance Zante that had me from the get-go and the same is true for the Zante 2. First, the shaved down midfoot bump is perfection. While I was perfectly comfortable with version one of this shoe the flatter internal structure gives an even more smooth transition since there’s no “drop-off” that might turn some people away. The spring and response of the ride really just makes me want to go run and I find that if I’ve got tired legs and I’m just not feeling it that this is a shoe I can reach for with no problems. I do think that this is a shoe that can take you any distance but the materials – depending on your gait and how much abrasion you’re throwing down on the outsole – will likely get you to about 350-450 miles depending.
You know thing thing where you watch a movie, fall in love with it and then see it again a few years after the fact, see new things you missed before and fall in love with it all over again? Yeah, that;s what I got out of the New Balance Zante 2. The changes in this shoe haven’t turned a blind eye to what made it great in version one but have embraced those things and doubled-down to make this shoe even better. Also, for $99, it’s REALLY tough to not have this as part of your arsenal of shoes.