Form meets function at an affordable price

Last reviewed: August 2010

Forget what you know about economy refrigerators. Though we found plenty of inexpensive options whose basic features and plain-Jane designs live up to old expectations, some of the best models from our latest tests are among the lowest-priced. And some premium models struggled with the basic task of keeping food fresh in our tests.

From the winner's circle, the LG LFC25770 is a bottom-freezer with popular French-door styling, excellent temperature control, high efficiency, and a $1,400 price tag that's hundreds less than other top-notch bottom-freezers. It's one of eight CR Best Buys. Another is the GE GSH22JFX, a side-by-side with through-the-door ice and water and other features you never used to see for around $1,000. And $750 gets you a CR Best Buy top-freezer, the Maytag M1TXEMMW, with excellent cooling and energy efficiency.

But two newly tested top-freezers joined the ranks of our lowest-rated models. Despite its promise to "keep your produce fresh," the Kenmore 7093, $700, had trouble maintaining optimal temperatures, while its brandmate 7297, $600, is relatively noisy and lacks basic conveniences such as a meat keeper and freezer shelf. Although those Kenmore models boast high efficiency, that alone wasn't enough to earn our recommendation.

Energy glitches investigated

At the other end of the efficiency spectrum, we continue to find models that use significantly more electricity in our tough energy-use tests than what's expected based on their EnergyGuide labels. Most recently, inconsistencies with the $2,200 Blomberg BRFB1450 bottom-freezer, the $1,600 Maytag MSD2578VE side-by-side, and the $8,000 Viking Professional VCSB542 built-in were severe enough for us to notify the Department of Energy, which oversees enforcement of appliance-efficiency regulations. Subpar temperature performance also put the Viking and the Blomberg at the bottom of their categories.

The DOE has opened an investigation, says Scott Blake Harris, general counsel at the agency. Because the investigation is ongoing, Harris couldn't go into specifics, but he noted that investigations usually involve the issuing of subpoenas for manufacturer data and independent DOE testing. Manufacturers that are found to be in violation of federal minimum energy-efficiency standards must pay $200 for every noncompliant unit sold.

Consumer Reports also contacted the Environmental Protection Agency, which administers the Energy Star program, to see whether the above Maytag model will be allowed to keep its Energy Star label (neither the Blomberg nor the Viking are Energy Star qualified). A spokesperson told us that the EPA is awaiting the results of the DOE investigation.

Unlike Energy Star, which measures only energy efficiency, our Ratings (available to subscribers) measure performance, noise, and usable capacity, as well as energy use.