Asics have always been a favorite of mine, and now that they have drifted into the more minimal market, I was excited to try these out, even if it was only for one run.
First of all, the shoes look great. I also got to try on the Asics Gel Lyte 33, but went wih the more traditional of the 2 for my run. Comparing the two - the Excel is more of a shoe. There is a heel counter, and 10mm of heel drop, compared to 6mm and no heel counter in the Lyte.
When I tried these on, initially I was a little disappointed by how narrow the toe box was. Asics aren't the widest of shoes, but I fit into a Cumulus with ease. These I found to rub a little on my third toe, and I imagine that after more regular usage, this could blister. Even though I had plenty of room in the end, the taper was too sudden, and too rigid for a shoe designed for forefoot running. However, that being said, I am now used to wider shoes, so for someone with slightly narrower feet than me, these would be super comfortable.
The midsole blends Solyte and SpEVA foams, with Gel for a surprisingly springy feel. You can really feel the Gel supporting and cushioning your feet, and with the addition of a Propulsion Trustic, the spring like qualities of the shoe are even more evident. However, the main talking point, and perhaps Asics' 'EUREKA' moment comes in the form of the Fluid Axis. This focuses on the movements of your feet. The number 33 comes from the number of joints in your feet (33 if you hadn't guessed). Traditionally shoes have flexed along the Frontal Axis (allowing Dorsi Flexion and Plantar Flexion of the ankle and feet). However the Fluid Axis also flexes along the Sagittal axis, allowing pronation and supination, possibly the most important movement of the ankle when running. This isn't clear when running, however it makes complete sense, and your feet feel free to move.
The upper is a lightweight mesh, and uses an external heel counter for comfort and support, and a Personal Heel Fit memory foam ankle collar. Immediately when you put this shoe on, you can feel it hugging your ankle. It's a very nice place to be, and you feel secure inside, Too many forefoot shoes have a wide collar, but this was spot on. Moving forward, all the way through the lacing system you again feel secure, it's just towards the toes that you begin to feel a little constricted.
The outsole uses AHAR+ for grip and durability. The shoes certainly didn't feel any grippier than most, however they do not need to, as they were grippy enough. As for durability...I didn't really get a chance to test that on my 1 hour run, however using the same rubber compound as they do in all their high end running shoes is a great choice, as it stood up well to the abuse I put my Cumulus 14's through!
I didn't notice the constriction in my toes as much as I thought I would, however, it was always there, and it was the only thing I could say that lets these shoes down. When you run in them, you just fall into forefoot running, and it was actually a conscious effort to land on my heels, which is definitely a first. The heel counter and collar fit perfectly, and there was no slipping around at all. The biggest thing aside from naturally running forefoot was the springy midsole. Using the same effective midsole as the Cumulus, it feels completely different, which I suspect has something to do with the Propulsion Trustic and the Fluid Axis, allowing your feet freedom of movement, whilst adding a spring to your step. If these shoes were slightly wider, or came in a 2E I'd be out buying a pair, because other than the toe box, they were excellent in every department.