Babolat Propulse 4 Men's Shoe Review
As soon as we got our first glimpse of the new Babolat Propulse 4 we were excited to put them to the test. While the sharp new cosmetic was the first thing we noticed, as soon as we took to the courts we found they had the performance to match. They were comfortable right out of the box, and most of the team needed little to no break-in time. The standout features to us were the vastly improved support and stability, as well as the low to the ground ride, which allowed us to be completely confident while moving on the court. Though it weighed in at over 16 ounces (size 10.5), the shoe played faster and lighter than expected. If you're a fan of stable shoes but don't like feeling weighed down on the court, the new Propulse 4 could be the shoe you're looking for!
Comfort - Score: 4.0
Our entire team found their shoes fit true to size. For the most part our playtesters found the Propulse 4 comfortable on court, but there were a couple of criticisms. Andy found the shoes comfortable right out of the box and really enjoyed the plush feel. He said, "Right from the get go the Propulse 4 felt plush and comfortable throughout. It has a roomier fit (but not too roomy), so your foot feels like it has some space to breathe. There is cushioning around the foot, and the midsole felt supportive and cushioned."
Jason also liked the fit, as well as the low to the ground feel. He offered, "This is a very comfortable shoe to wear and to play in from the start. Even though the ride was low-to-the-ground, there was more than enough cushioning. Like the previous model, the uppers on the Propulse 4 are nice and soft. But unlike the Propulse 3s, I didn't experience any discomfort around the ankle collar this time around. The only small negative would be the clasp - if I cinched down too tight I could feel it dig into my foot."
The biggest criticism about the comfort was about the fit around the ankle. Chris had a bit of pinching in that area, as he explained, "It took about four trips to the courts in these shoes before I felt I had them adequately broken in. I would say the uppers are support-oriented rather than aimed at offering all out comfort. I had some issues around the ankle collar of my left shoe. It seemed some of the upper materials were overlapping and the resulting bump formed an uncomfortable pressure point on my ankle. Aside from that the comfort was ok. The forefoot was more comfortable and I liked how the shoes flexed well to allow for comfortable movement. I liked the level of cushioning this shoe offered. It allowed me to feel the court, yet also provided enough cushioning to keep my feet comfortable."
Spencer found this new offering to be more comfortable than the last, but he had the same issue with the fit in the ankle as he did with the Propulse 3. He said, "I thought the fit was improved from the previous version, as I felt more locked in in the forefoot. The fit was snug, but not too tight, offering good hugging support throughout. Though I loved the fit, there was some slight discomfort at the heel collar during the first couple of wears which is the same issue I had with the Propulse 3. I didn't feel there was enough padding in that specific area."
Ventilation - Score: 3.6
Ventilation was not a standout feature of the Propulse 4, but it never proved to be an issue for our playtest team. Jason said, "I had no issues with the breathability. The uppers had plenty of perforations so the shoe was well ventilated. Even in the dark colorway, overheating was not an issue."
Spencer thought the composition of the upper allowed his foot to breathe just fine. He said, "No problems with breathability here. There was plenty of mesh in the upper to allow plenty of ventilation."
It was neither love nor hate for Chris when it came to the breathability, as he said, "The venting was pretty middle of the road for me. My feet never got overly hot, but I wouldn't necessarily call this a well-ventilated shoe, either. Once I was done playing I was keen to get these shoes off to let my feet breathe."
Andy agreed, saying, "This shoe did tend to run a bit hot. Ventilation was never an issue, but it wasn't a noticeable strength either. There is a lot of rubber around the upper that adds to the stability but takes away from ventilation. I did find my feet got a bit sweaty at times, but it was never a huge issue."
Arch Support - Score: 3.9
Our playtest team found plenty of support through the arch. Chris' high arches found more than enough support. He said, "My arches felt well supported in this shoe. The midfoot shank offered great stability and the height of the arch support was a good fit. The midsole also molded nicely to the shape of my foot. I felt very confident when sprinting around the court in this shoe, and I did not experience any discomfort in the arch area."
Spencer and his medium arches were comfortable for the entire playtest as well. He said, "I thought the height and feel of the arch support was good for my medium arches. I was happy with the amount of support there."
It took a bit of time for Jason's flatter feet to adjust to the arch support, but after they did he was quite pleased. He explained, "Since I have such flat feet I needed a small break in period before the arch was really comfortable, but after 2-3 hits the shoe broke in nicely."
Andy had no problems with the arch support. He said, "It felt to me like the shoe has slightly lower than average arch support, which fit my foot fine. It's not the most supportive shoe for your arch out there, so if you have a higher arch you may want to look elsewhere. However, if you have a flatter, wider foot this shoe should fit great."
Foot Support/Stability - Score: 4.5
According to our playtesters, support and stability are two of the strengths of the Propulse 4, and they're much improved over the previous version. Jason noticed this difference, and also found the straps helpful in this area. He explained, "I felt like the uppers of the Propulse 3 were too soft, which took away from the stability and support, but I feel like Babolat has addressed this issue with the Propulse 4s. The uppers feel more substantial and supportive. With the Foot Belt system I could really get a nice, snug fit, which let me move with confidence."
Chris also found the straps and the upper of the shoe contributed to the excellent stability. He said, "The level of both support and stability was impressive in this shoe. I thought the support in the forefoot was improved over the previous version, and the shoe felt beefier in that area. Both the midfoot strap and the heel strap do their respective jobs. It doesn't take much effort to get a very secure fit from the straps. With two pairs of socks I found the fit to be supportive and my feet felt locked in inside the shoes. On the stability front, the chassis of this shoe was stiff enough to make it feel very stable. I never had any issues with the shoe twisting too much, and I always felt like I was getting the stability I needed."
"This is where I felt the Propulse 4 excelled," Andy exclaimed. "It feels low to the ground, which always helps you feel more stable when moving around the court. The rubber cage around the upper does a great job holding the foot in place, especially on aggressive lateral cuts. The shoe was a bit wide for me through the heel, which is the only reason I didn't give it a perfect score in this category. All in all, a very supportive and stable shoe."
Rounding out the crew, Spencer felt completely confident making all of his aggressive moves in these shoes. He said, "The straps on both the heel and the top of the shoe offer an extra bit of support that makes a big difference in how the shoe feels on my feet. My foot felt more secure in the forefoot as well. I felt very locked in with this latest version of the Propulse. I didn't have to be concerned about changing directions at full speed."
Overall Sole Durability - Score: 3.7
Most of our team felt the Propulse 4 held up great and showed above average durability throughout the test. He wouldn't put them up against the best shoes in this category, but Chris found the durability to be adequate. He said, "These shoes were decently durable. While they are not as durable as an adidas Barricade, they held up pretty well to hard court play. The outsoles made it through the month-long playtest with a decent amount of tread left on them, and I expect to get a few more weeks of play on them."
Spencer found better results, saying, "I'd say they're comparable to most durability guaranteed shoes at the highest level. I didn't notice any premature wear whatsoever. Granted, I'm not terribly hard on my outsoles compared to several of my playtesting peers."
Jason still had more life left in his pair after the playtest, as he explained, "I found slightly above average durability, which was good considering the low-to-the-ground ride. I've worn my pair for 15 hours and there's still plenty of tread left."
Andy would've liked to have seen his outsoles hold up a bit better. He said, "I was expecting more durability out of these Propulse 4s. There was a good deal of balding under my big toe after a decent amount of use during the playtest, so it didn't excel over many shoes in that aspect. I would probably be utilizing the 6 month durability guarantee if I was playing regularly."
Toe Durability - Score: 4.0
Chris was our lone toe dragging playtester on this test, and he found the shoe held up well in that area. He said, "The toe durability was pretty solid in these shoes. The stitching frayed and gave out on my left shoe at the foremost white stripe on the lateral side of the forefoot, but it did not seem to affect the performance of the shoe. The Cell Shield material proved to be very durable and resisted wear very well."
Traction - Score: 3.7
Traction was good, but there were also some complaints about slipping on hard courts. Andy found the shoe didn't grip as well as the playtest wore on. He said, "The traction was good, giving me grip and give when I needed it. However, I did find that there were a few occasions when I would "spin out" when trying to accelerate quickly. There was just a little slippage under the big toe, but this was also where the outsole was wearing down over time. At the beginning of the test the traction was great, but it got a little more slick over time."
Chris liked the lateral traction, but he found himself slipping at times when starting a sprint. He said, "Traction was decent, but I did have occasions when I slipped. I appreciated the give when I was changing directions, as it helped prevent any sensation of rolling. However, on fast starts, such as sprints to the net, I found myself slipping and losing that much needed drive to chase down a well-timed drop shot. The traction was good when I was moving laterally across the baseline, it was just when sprinting forward that I had some issues."
Jason had a similar experience, but he eventually got used to the court response. He explained, "This was the only area where I was a little disappointed in the Propulse 4. I thought the traction was good for the most part, but I found myself sliding more than I normally do. I slipped sometimes when I tried to move forward for a shot or when I planted my feet going side to side. Luckily, the sliding became predictable, so I could account for it."
Spencer thought the traction was good, but found himself desiring a bit more tack in order to feel more confident in his aggressive cuts. He said, "I'd say the traction was good, not great. I didn't have any issues per se, but I'd have liked them to have a little more tack, as it would have allowed me a little more efficiency in my movement."
Weight - Score: 4.1
The Propulse 4 comes in as one of the heavier performance shoes on the market, but our playtesters thought they felt lighter then they actually are. Spencer liked the feel and how stable his feet felt. He said, "Anything over 16 ounces is considered heavy these days, but usually with that comes great stability and durability. No exception here, though I wouldn't characterize them as "heavy". I think Babolat does a good job distributing the weight in the shoe. It doesn't feel as heavy as its listed weight. I was happy with the combination of weight and stability."
Chris thought they felt heavier than the previous version, but with that added heft came added stability, which he appreciated. He said, "These shoes have a more substantial feel on the foot than the 3s, but I think that is more from the built up stability in the forefoot than any actual difference in weight. For me it was a good thing, as I thought the support was better in this version, while the shoes still felt plenty nimble. Also, it offers a lighter feel than most other durability guaranteed shoes."
Andy never felt weighted down in these shoes, saying, "The Propulse 4 isn't a lightweight shoe, but the shoe is designed so well that the weight is hidden extremely well. You feel fast and low to the ground in these! There was never a time when I felt the bulkiness of the shoe."
Jason agreed, as he said, "I didn't feel like this shoe was extraordinarily lightweight, but the ride made it seem lighter than it really was. I felt fast around the court, even if the shoe does weigh in at over 16 ounces (size 10.5)."
Overall - Score: 4.2
Chris - "I liked the improved support and stability of this fourth version."
Spencer - "The support, stability and performance."
Jason - "Almost everything, from the comfort to the support and stability to the ventilation. It's a well made, high performance tennis shoe!"
Andy - "I loved the low to the ground design, support and stability."
Chris - "The break-in was longer for me, especially around the ankle collar, and I didn't find quite the traction I expected."
Spencer - "The heel collar could have been a little more padded for more comfort."
Jason - "Traction could be slightly improved."
Andy - "I would've liked a little more ventilation and durability."
Comparing this shoe to other shoes they've worn our testers said:
Chris - "For me, this felt like a more supportive and stable update to the Propulse line. Looking at other brands, this one competes with the likes of the Asics Gel Resolution 5 and Nike Air Max Cage. All of these shoes blend support, durability, court speed and great style."
Spencer - "I felt the locked in feel was more like the Propulse 2, while the performance and look were more like the Propulse 3. A good update for the Propulse line."
Jason - "The ride is very similar to the Propulse 3, but with improved stability and support."
Andy - "To me, this felt like a softer and lower to the ground Barricade. They fit my foot similarly, and I thought they both excelled in their support and stability. After a break-in period I'd probably still go with the Barricade over these, but the Propulse 4 is ready to go right out of the box and definitely feels lighter and faster. A very nice shoe!"
Playtester Foot Types:
Chris - Narrow width / Medium arch
Spencer - Medium width / Medium arch
Jason - Wide width / Low arch
Andy - Medium width / Low arch
Review date: May 2013. If you found this review interesting or have further questions or comments please contact us.
All content copyright 2013 Tennis Warehouse.