Shoe brands feel the need to update nearly every model every year—mostly to get your attention. Sometimes the updates are merely cosmetic: a color change or minor alteration of the upper. Sometimes the updates mess with a beloved ride, infuriating fans. And sometimes the updates fix problems, introduce better materials, improve fit and function. These five sequels are the latter: New versions that perform better than the originals.
Hoka Mach 2
Weight: 8.0 oz (M); 6.6 oz (W)
Why they’re better: The light, flexible, foot-wrapping and forgiving upper makes this arguably the best-fitting Hoka to date. The Mach’s predecessor, the Clayton, was supposed to be more accommodating than the typically narrow Hoka, but it had a weird fit issue that bloodied the arches of many. The Mach was better, but its upper was somewhat stiff and hard to lock down to the foot. The Mach 2’s thin, engineered mesh stays out of the way while wrapping close to the foot, and the last provides room for real feet, even allowing some splay.
How they ride: Besides no longer rubbing the wrong way, the Mach also delivers an improved underfoot feel. The full midsole is now molded from a rubberized foam that is softer in the heel and firmer in the forefoot. There’s still considerable distance between you and the ground (more than one tester preferred), but the footplant is far less squishy than other Hokas, and, combined with the wide base and aggressive toe rocker, the ride feels both stable and swift. One tester who has never before found a Hoka he wanted to take home found himself reaching for the Mach 2 for daily runs and tempo work.
New Balance Fresh Foam Zante Pursuit
Weight: 7.3 oz (M); 6.1 oz (W)
Why they’re better: Most everything about the new Zante Pursuit is a bit less than the v4—less weight, less stiffness, less control—which makes the shoe more for many runners. New Balance pared the weight down by a good ounce, reduced the density of the midsole, and lost the lock-down midfoot saddle on the upper. The new upper, made of soft, stretchy Hyperknit, makes this model stand out in both comfort and style.
How they ride: From the beginning the Zante has provided an inimitable, quick-transition, high-cadence, rolling ride off its moderately-firm sole with sharply upturned toe. “This shoe pushes your speed and encourages a rapid turnover,” said one tester. This version delivered that happy-feet feel of the first Zante, with an even smoother roll due to the slipper-like upper that avoids the sometimes awkward transition from tight midfoot to open forefoot in previous uppers. It is a testament to the way the sole moves with the foot that the stretchy upper provides adequate control for running at most paces, although not enough for races. Testers raved about their comfort and said they often kept the Zante Pursuits on after runs were over.
Brooks Glycerin 17
Weight: 10.6 oz (M); 9.2 oz (W)
Why they’re better: The 17th edition of the Glycerin saw minor changes in how the shoe surrounds your foot, but those tweaks improve the feel and ride of Brook’s uber-cushioned model. Directly underfoot, the standard-foam footbed was replaced with an Ortholite sockliner, which is thinner, more flexible and provides energy-return properties—soft but bouncy, light but resilient. The engineered mesh upper became softer and more flexible, particularly around the heel and midfoot where what was a solid and somewhat rigid saddle overlay is now a much thinner pattern of flexible 3-D-printed hexagons.
How they ride: The updates let the shoe wrap and move with the foot superbly, allowing you to better feel and appreciate the beauty of the light, flexible and cushy DNA Loft midsole foam introduced in the Glycerin 16. The shoe transitions smoothly through the stride and provides excellent cushioning without wallowing. “The Glycerin is the perfect balance of light and zippy as well as cushioned and secure feeling,” said a tester. “The cushion is ample for double digit runs along with the feeling that you could throw in some fast strides or even a fartlek.”
Nike Odyssey React Flyknit 2
Weight: 8.2 oz (M); 6.9 oz (W)
Why they’re better: The new Flyknit upper makes the Odyssey React 2 a far more comfortable shoe. Nike designers swapped out the constricting neoprene “booty” of the original model for one made of stretchy, breathable, engineered Flyknit wrapping the foot from toe to tongue. They’ve also added a more substantial saddle from heel to instep to improve the rear- and midfoot lock down. This new version is still quite narrow, particularly at the toe, which some testers felt was too snug, but the upper stretches to accommodate most feet, and holds and moves comfortably through the stride.
How they ride: When React foam came out early last year it was a breakthrough in providing superior energy-return in an ultra-light package. Other foams are now competing in that space, but React still provides a distinct, soft bounce that works well at a variety of paces. The Odyssey adds a hint of stability and durability to the React’s ride with a more substantial “heel clip” and more outsole rubber, plus that supportive midfoot saddle. Many—even some neutral testers—found the ride superior to the Epic React Flyknit, the Odyssey’s flashier sibling, as the heel squished a bit less and seemed to roll quickly down the 10mm drop and off the rockered toe. “The shoe was responsive, especially at faster speeds,” said one tester. “It makes you feel smooth and quick when increasing the cadence.”
Topo UltraFly 2
Weight: 10.4 oz (M); 8.2 oz (W)
Why they’re better: Topo improved the fit of their most-cushioned shoe by replacing the upper fabric with a more breathable and durable mesh, plus reducing the amount of overlays. They also replaced the insole with an Ortholite-X Series sockliner that provides a plusher, long-lasting, bouncy feel underfoot and lets the properties of the midsole material shine.
How they ride: The UltraFly uniquely delivers a combination of foot-shaped comfort created by a wide, squared-off toe box, the natural ride of a low heel-toe drop, and the stability of a 3-density midsole, with a softer crash pad and firmer medial post. The new upper wraps the foot closer and allows for a smoother and easier flex. Even with the stability features, the feel is mostly smooth-rolling cushion, although, as with other Topos, the ride is firmer than many of today’s shoes, the way a high-quality mattress is firmer than a futon. “The shoe feels stable and cushioned without being spongy—a springy platform that keeps me connected to the ground without getting beat up by it,” said one tester.