Saucony Kinvara 4 Review

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After a fall full of races in the plush Brooks Glycerin 11, I was looking for a lighter, more minimal running shoe that still had ample cushioning. I wound up purchasing the well-regarded Kinvara, now in its fourth iteration.
The Kinvara 4 is a reduced running shoe. That means that it’s less shoe than many traditional models, but it’s not at the extremely minimal (e.g. Vibram Five Fingers) end of the spectrum.
The Minimalist Features of the Saucony Kinvara 4
-4 mm drop
-Thin upper with few overlays (check out the thin heel cup in the images)
-Limited rubber on the sole located mostly in the forefoot area
-Light weight: 7.7 oz. in a men’s size 9 (per the Saucony website)
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A Bit About Me
-127 lbs, 5’4″
-35-55 miles per week
-Slight overpronator, worst pronation happens with the left foot
-Usually a mild heel striker or midfoot striker
-Prefer long distance (marathon, half marathon, ten miler)
-Training for a 50k
Runs Completed in the Kinvara 4 at the Time of This Review
-November 8, 2013: 1.43 miles, 11:23.33, 7:57/mile average pace, 5:45/mile max pace, hilly roads
-November 19, 2013: 4.17 miles, 38:18.48, 9:11/mile average pace, mostly hilly sidewalks and roads
-November 26, 2013: 4.10 miles, 35:02.74, 8:33/mile average pace, mostly hilly sidewalks and roads
-November 27, 2013: 4.12 miles, 39:06.54, 9:29/mile average pace, mostly hilly sidewalks and roads
-December 5, 2013: 8.24 miles, 1:20:54, 9:49/mile average pace, mostly hilly sidewalks
-December 17, 2013: 6.40 miles, 57:59.90, 9:04/mile average pace, mostly hilly sidewalks and roads
-December 25, 2013: 8.22 miles, 1:07:07, 8:09.90/mile average pace, 6:58/mile max pace, treadmill
-December 27, 2013: 6.28 miles, 52:00, 8:16.82/mile average pace, 6:44.49/mile max pace, treadmill
-December 27, 2013: 1.82 miles, 14:40, 8:03.52/mile average pace, treadmill
-December 28, 2013: 10.02 miles, 1:31:58, 9:11/mile average pace, somewhat hilly sidewalks
-January 1, 2014: 10.23 miles, 1:28:57, 8:42/mile average pace, somewhat hilly sidewalks and paved trail
Total: 11 runs, 65.03 miles
First Impressions
My first few runs in the Kinvara 4 weren’t that enjoyable. The shoe felt stiff underfoot, and very slappy; each footfall was noisy. (Bear in mind that I was accustomed to smooth transitions and a Cadillac-like ride in the Brooks Glycerin 11.) Not only that, but it made my legs tired. Curiously, the Kinvara 4 felt soft and comfy when I was walking into my house after a run — I’ve never before had a shoe feel better after a run than during the run, without even taking it off.
Current Opinion
Little did I know, the walk-around comfort was a sign of good things to come. All the Kinvara 4 needed was some break-in time. After a few runs, suddenly it ran like a dream. A noisy dream. The slapping sound at each foot strike persists, even while walking on hard surfaces, but the slappy feel and stiffness do not. Initially I was scratching my head at the popular assertion that the Kinvara 4 is a soft shoe, but I do find the cushioning to be moderately soft now. Not soft or plush enough to be my top choice for long distances or recovery runs, but it provides ample protection from the ground while still allowing for good ground feel. The ground feel contributes to a fast, nimble, in-control  feeling in these shoes.
I’ve come to expect perfection out of the box, but the Kinvara 4 took patience. I broke it in, and it broke me in. Eventually I adjusted to the lower drop which, based on the tread wear patterns, genuinely does encourage me to land on my forefoot.
The Saucony Kinvara 4 by the Numbers
Comfort: 7/10
Not at all plush, and not very comfortable for me out of the box, but the Kinvara 4 warmed up into a surprisingly comfortable shoe.
Performance: 8/10
The Kinvara 4 effectively encourages me to run on my midfoot and forefoot a bit more. However, there isn’t enough protection from the ground for me, so while I appreciate the zippy feel, I probably wouldn’t choose this shoe for anything longer than a half marathon, if that.
Construction Quality: 8/10
I had to dock Saucony a couple of points here because the Power Grid logo is upside down on my right shoe — what the heck? But otherwise everything seems to be aligned well. No glue spots or errant sewing. I’d prefer more rubber on the sole, especially in the lateral heel and forefoot areas (I think this is coming in the Kinvara 5), but I understand that the limited rubber saves weight. However, I’m hard on shoe treads and my high-wear areas aren’t all covered in rubber on this shoe.
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Materials Quality: 8/10
I can’t complain about the footbed or the moderately hard-wearing sole rubber, but I’m disappointed in the upper. It’s already ripping at the pinky toe area on both shoes. I’d been warned by other online reviewers that this would happen, but I really didn’t think that it would happen to me since I don’t typically put a lot of wear on the uppers of my shoes.
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Value: 8/10
I purchased the Kinvara 4 at full price at my local running store for about $100. I’m used to buying shoes on sale, but for a full-priced shoe, this is a decent price. However, the limited rubber on the sole and the fraying upper indicate to that the shoe won’t last much longer than 300 miles for me.
Overall: 8/10
A fun, fast shoe that’s a departure from what I usually wear. I’d even go so far as so say that I love them. With the notable exception of the durability issues and the less notable exception of their noisiness, these are great shoes, and I think that I gave them less than perfect marks because of my preference for more traditional shoes and my (unreasonable) expectation that these shoes would deliver a more traditional ride. I’m eagerly awaiting the Kinvara 5, which is slated to debut in June 2014.
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