Saucony Cortana 4 Review

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The Saucony Cortana 4 is a shoe for those looking for something that's just slightly less over engineered than conventional running shoes like the Asics GT 2000. This means it can be used as a stepping stone to better shoes that offer more cushioning for the same weight, or less weight for the same cushioning. Compared with a traditional shoe like the Asics GT 2000 and an optimal shoe like the Asics Gel Hyper Speed, the Cortana is much closer to the GT 2000 than the Hyper Speed, where a shoe like the Saucony Kinvara is closer to the Hyper Speed. If you can accept the Cortana in its role as a transitional shoe, then it works well and is nicely designed. It's only when you compare it with what a running shoe should be that it looks rather grim. I've rated it as "worth considering." (I use The Science of Running Shoes as the basis of how I test running shoes and what you should look for in a running shoe.)

Saucony Cortana 4 top
Saucony Cortana 4 bottom
Saucony Cortana 4 inside
Saucony Cortana 4 outside

1 Characteristics

  • Why you’d buy it. If you want a better shoe than a traditional running shoe, but only want to make a small change, the Cortana is a solid choice. I'd recommend trying out the Saucony Kinvara first, and only go for the Cortana if the Kinvara is too much of a change from what you're used to.
  • Cushioning . As you'd expect from a transitional shoe, the Cortana has poor cushioning for its weight. In fact, it's cushioning is worse than shoes that are vastly lighter. This is because the Cortana uses harder foam in an attempt to reduce Pronation. The cushioning is so limited that I'm not sure you get all the running economy benefits of a cushioned shoe, making the Cortana slower than you might expect.
  • Drop. The Cortana has 5mm of drop when loaded, which is more than I'd like, but not unreasonable for a transitional shoe. This represents a nice midway point between the typical 10mm drop you might see in a traditional shoe and the low drop of a good shoe.
  • Structure. The Cortana uses two densities of foam in an effort to reduce Pronation. The firmer foam is on the inside forward edge of the heel, as well as cupping the heel slightly all around. This cupping is reinforced with a harder plastic layer, seen as an orange line in the middle of the outside view of the shoe.
  • Flexibility. The Cortana has mediocre flexibility in spite of the groves in the midsole and the gaps in the outsole. Unlike the Nike LunarSpider, the lack of flexibility in the Cortana does not provide much spring, and just dampens the toe off.
  • Outsole. The Cortana has two densities of firmer rubber outsole over a good portion of the contact areas.
  • Shape. The Cortana is not designed around a human foot, with a toe box that presses on the toes. I cut open the toe box to prevent blisters and allow my foot to move, which largely corrects the problem. (I recommend cutting open the toe box of virtually all running shoes, with the exception of a few shoes like some Altra shoes. When you have some worn out shoes, you should try cutting open the toe box. I've found that it's a big improvement, allowing my toes to move naturally and engage for toe off, as well as reducing the possibility of blisters.)
  • Upper. The upper is inflexible and mostly seamless. It's quite breathable in the forefoot, with a little padding around the rear of the foot, and lots of soft padding around the ankle opening.
  • Tongue. The Cortana has a traditional tongue that is has a tab to attach it to the laces, with nice soft padding.
  • Lacing. The Cortana has flat laces that worked well and I never had them come undone. They are also slightly elastic which improves the perceived comfort a bit.
  • Heel Counter. The Cortana has surprisingly soft heel counter that is placed on the outside of the shoe. It's ineffectual, but harmless.
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2 Cushioning and Shoes

It's intuitively obvious that the cushioning in a shoe will reduce the impact on your body when running. However, The Science of Running Shoes indicates that the reality is rather more complex. While slight cushioning may reduce the effort needed to run by improving your Running Economy, most scientific research indicates that more cushioning does further improve Running Economy. In addition, cushioning does not generally reduce impact and may actually increase it. This is counterintuitive, but is likely to be due to the way a runners mind and body adapts to softer cushioning. Unfortunately, the scientific evidence is far from complete and it's hard to give clear recommendations. I believe that some runners will prefer more cushioning, while others prefer less, and typically those running further have a fondness for greater cushioning. I also believe that a shoe should be as light as possible, and a shoe should justify its weight with the cushioning it provides. My advice is to decide what level of cushioning you're looking for, and then find the lightest shoes that also fit well and are comfortable.

3 Visualizing the Attributes of the Saucony Cortana

How Saucony Cortana compares showing rearfoot cushioning against the performance penalty of its weight. Upper right is better.
How Saucony Cortana compares showing forefoot cushioning against the performance penalty of its weight. Upper right is better.
How Saucony Cortana compares showing the price against the benefit (cushioning/performance penalty). Upper left is better.
How Saucony Cortana compares showing the loaded drop against the benefit (cushioning/performance penalty). Upper left is better.

4 Comparisons

Here are some direct comparisons with its potential competition.

4.1 Saucony Cortana and Saucony Kinvara

Both the Cortana and the Saucony Kinvara are transitional shoes, falling part way between the traditional, over engineered shoes like the Asics GT 2000, and simpler, more effective designs. On this scale the Cortana is closer to the traditional shoes than the Kinvara. The Cortana has multiple densities of foam in an attempt to interfere with foot movement which makes it both heavier and less well cushioned. Therefore the Kinvara is a better shoe, but the Cortana might be useful if you want to move to something slightly better than a traditional shoe without making too many changes.

Saucony Cortana 4 top
Saucony Cortana 4 bottom
Saucony Cortana 4 inside
Saucony Cortana 4 outside
Top
Bottom
Inside
Outside

4.2 Saucony Cortana and Asics Gel Hyper Speed

The Asics Gel Hyper Speed is not only a lot lighter than the Cortana, it's a lot better cushioned. The Cortana has a little more padding, but there's little difference in comfort. You might select the Cortana as part of your transition to better shoes, while the Hyper Speed is where you should be aiming to end up.

Saucony Cortana 4 top
Saucony Cortana 4 bottom
Saucony Cortana 4 inside
Saucony Cortana 4 outside
Asics Gel Hyper Speed 6 top
Asics Gel Hyper Speed 6 bottom
Asics Gel Hyper Speed 6 inside
Asics Gel Hyper Speed 6 outside

4.3 Saucony Cortana and New Balance RC5000

The New Balance RC5000 only weighs about a third as much as the Cortana, but provides more heel cushioning and nearly as much in the forefoot. The two shoes feel radically different, as the Cortana has thick, firm padding where the RC5000 has thin soft padding, so they produce similar results in different ways. If you're considering the Cortana, the RC5000 is probably not something you should think about, but it does highlight how much better it's possible to make a shoe.

Saucony Cortana 4 top
Saucony Cortana 4 bottom
Saucony Cortana 4 inside
Saucony Cortana 4 outside
New Balance MRC 5000 top
New Balance MRC 5000 bottom
New Balance MRC 5000 inside
New Balance MRC 5000 outside

4.4 Saucony Cortana and Asics GT 2000

The Asics GT 2000 is benchmark "normal running shoe", and this makes is particularly relevant for the Cortana. The two shoes are relatively similar, with the Cortana being slightly more flexible, slightly lighter, but slightly less well cushioned. These small differences feel quite significant when you have one of each on each foot. The Cortana is a slightly better shoe than the GT 2000, though I'd suggest you also look at the Saucony Kinvara as a better transitional shoe.

Saucony Cortana 4 top
Saucony Cortana 4 bottom
Saucony Cortana 4 inside
Saucony Cortana 4 outside
Asics GT2000 top
Asics GT2000 bottom
Asics GT2000 inside
Asics GT2000 outside

5 A Comparison with other Recommended Shoes

For a more detailed comparison of these shoes see the Recommendations for Best Running Shoes. This table lists the key attributes of What to Look for in Running Shoes. For more detailed information, on the shoes see detailed shoe comparison.

Full Review Name Rating Recommended
price
Benefit Weight
(oz)
Penalty
(sec/mile)
Forefoot
Thickness
Heel
Thickness
Loaded Drop
mm
Cushioning Flexibility
Asics 33-DFA Review 33-DFA Worth considering $90 5.7 10.6 16.5 27 27 0 6.1 6
Saucony Type A6 Review A6 Highly Recommended $100 8.2 6.1 9.5 17 21 4 5.0 8
Adidas Adios Boost 2 Review Adios Worth considering $140 4.7 8.6 13.4 17 27 11 4.0 7
Skechers GO Bionic 2 Review Bionic Highly Recommended $95 6.4 7.0 10.9 15 18 2 4.5 9
Hoka Bondi Review Bondi Highly Recommended $150 8.0 10.9 17.0 41 45 5 8.8 0
Hoka Clayton Review Clayton Best of the Best $150 8.8 8.3 12.9 26 30 3 7.3 5
Hoka Clifton 3 Review Clifton3 Best of the Best $130 9.1 9.8 15.3 34 38 3 8.9 6
On Cloudracer Review Cloudracer Worth considering $130 5.7 8.2 12.8 19 27 5 4.7 8
Hoka Conquest Review Conquest Worth considering $170 5.0 11.9 18.5 28 34 5 6.0 3
Saucony Cortana 4 Review Cortana Worth considering $150 4.4 9.9 18.7 22 28 5 4.3 5
Mizuno Wave Cruise Review Cruise Worth considering $120 6.6 5.9 12.5 17 20 7 3.9 7
Newton Distance IV Review Distance Worth considering $155 7.5 9.1 14.2 26 31 3 6.8 6
Asics Gel DS Racer 10 Review DS Racer Worth considering $110 8.2 7.0 10.9 21 26 6 5.8 6
Mizuno Wave Ekiden 8 Review Ekiden Worth considering $115 5.7 5.7 14.6 13 18 6 3.2 8
Saucony Endorphin Review Endorphin Highly Recommended $125 11.1 4.1 6.4 14 13 -1 4.5 9
Adidas Energy Boost Review Energy Worth considering $160 7.2 10.0 15.6 20 30 7 7.2 6
Puma Faas 100 R Review Faas 100 Highly Recommended $90 8.4 6.1 9.4 15 20 1 5.1 9
Saucony Fastwitch Review Fastwitch Highly Recommended $90 9.5 7.1 11.1 20 22 4 6.8 8
Topo Fli-Lyte Review Fli-Lyte Highly Recommended $100 6.0 9.4 14.6 23 24 4 5.6 6
Nike Free 4.0 Review Free Recommended $120 5.3 8.2 13.6 24 30 6 4.4 6
Saucony Freedom Review Freedom Recommended $160 5.4 10.7 16.6 11 11 3 5.8 7
Asics Gel Lyte 33 3 Review Gel Lyte Not recommended $90 8.0 7.3 11.4 17 24 4 5.8 9
Skechers GOmeb Speed 3 Review GOmeb 3 Worth considering $120 6.9 8.1 12.6 20 24 4 5.5 8
Skechers GORun 4 Review GORun Not recommended $100 6.1 7.5 11.7 15 23 3 4.5 7
Skechers GOrun Ultra 2 Review GRU Worth considering $90 7.5 10.0 15.6 28 34 8 7.5 5
Skechers GOrun Ultra Road Review GRU-R Worth considering $105 6.5 11.3 17.6 30 40 6 7.4 7
Asics GT 2000 Review GT 2000 Not recommended $120 4.8 11.2 17.4 28 35 5 5.4 4
Asics Gel Hyper Speed 7 Review Hyper Speed Highly Recommended $75 10.9 6.3 9.8 22 26 5 6.8 7
Altra Instinct 3.5 Review Instinct 3.5 Recommended $115 4.9 9.3 15.2 24 23 0 4.5 6
Asics Tarther Kainos 3 Review Kainos Worth considering $130 10.0 6.9 10.7 17 27 9 6.8 7
Saucony Kinvara 7 Review Kinvara Best of the Best $110 7.4 8.2 12.8 23 27 3 6.1 6
Nike LunaRacer 4 Review LunaRacer Recommended $90 9.9 7.0 10.9 22 30 7 6.9 6
Nike LunarSpider R5 Review LunarSpider Recommended $125 6.9 6.7 10.4 17 21 3 4.6 7
Hoka Mafate Speed Review Mafate Best of the Best $170 7.6 11.9 18.5 39 40 4 9.0 3
Pearl Izumi EM Road N0 v2 Review N0 Highly Recommended $100 7.9 6.5 10.1 14 20 4 5.2 8
New Balance 980 Review NB 980 Worth considering $110 4.6 10.1 15.7 21 30 5 4.6 5
Hoka Odyssey Review Odyssey Highly Recommended $130 8.5 9.4 14.6 37 45 5 8.0 4
Altra Olympus Review Olympus Highly Recommended $130 5.4 11.8 18.4 27 27 3 6.4 4
Altra One 2.5 Review One Highly Recommended $100 8.5 7.1 11.1 22 25 2 6.0 8
Altra Paradigm Review Paradigm Highly Recommended $130 6.4 9.9 15.4 25 25 1 6.4 4
Asics Piranha SP 5 Review Piranha Recommended $100 10.1 4.2 6.5 11 15 3 4.2 9
Brooks PureFlow 5 Review PureFlow Worth considering $110 6.0 9.7 15.1 26 29 5 5.8 8
Salming Race Review Race Worth considering $130 6.9 6.5 10.1 16 19 4 4.5 7
New Balance RC1600 v2 Review RC1600 Highly Recommended $110 8.8 5.6 8.7 15 21 5 4.9 8
New Balance RC5000 Review RC5000 Best of the Best $125 12.2 3.4 5.3 13 17 3 4.2 8
New Balance RC5000v2 Review RC5000v2 Best of the Best $125 14.2 4.0 6.2 13 21 6 5.7 8
Skechers GoRun Ride 3 Review Ride Worth considering $85 5.9 8.5 13.2 18 28 6 5.0 9
Inov-8 RoadXTreme 220 Review RXT-220 Worth considering $120 5.2 8.0 18.2 14 17 3 4.2 9
Hoka Stinson Lite Review Stinson Highly Recommended $160 7.3 11.6 18.1 35 40 6 8.5 2
Nike Zoom Streak LT 3 Review Streak LT Best of the Best $80 8.8 5.4 8.4 16 21 4 4.8 6
Adidas Takumi Sen 3 Review Takumi Sen 3 Highly Recommended $160 7.7 6.6 10.2 17 21 4 5.1 6
Altra Torin 2.0 Review Torin Worth considering $125 5.8 9.6 14.9 28 25 -1 5.5 5
Hoka Tracer Review Tracer Recommended $130 7.2 7.4 11.5 21 24 2 5.3 6
Merrell Trail Glove 3 Review Trail Glove Best of the Best $100 2.9 6.9 24.7 11 11 0 2.0 9
Brooks Transcend 2 Review Transcend Recommended $170 5.1 12.6 19.6 30 36 6 6.5 4
Topo Tribute Review Tribute Recommended $100 5.9 7.3 11.4 20 18 -1 4.3 7
Mizuno Wave Universe 5 Review Universe Highly Recommended $125 10.7 3.1 10.6 9 12 1 3.3 9
Merrell Vapor Glove 2 Review Vapor Glove Highly Recommended $85 2.1 6.1 27.6 6 5 0 1.3 10
New Balance Vazee Pace Review Vazee Pace Worth considering $110 6.0 8.6 13.4 18 24 6 5.2 6
Asics TartherZeal 3 Review Zeal Worth considering $140 10.9 6.3 9.8 17 27 9 6.8 7

It's not a running shoe, but I love the Hoka Tor Ultra hiking boot and I've tested the Altra Lone Peak Boot.
Older shoe reviews: Saucony Hattori Review, Mizuno Cursoris Review, Skechers GO Bionic 2 Review, Hoka Clifton Review, Saucony Virrata 2 Review, Brooks PureCadence 3 Review, Brooks PureConnect 3 Review, Brooks PureFlow 3 Review.
Reviews of shoes that are not worth including on the table: Hoka Huaka Review, Patagonia EVERlong Review.