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Winners big and small in our latest refrigerator Ratings

Consumer Reports News: December 05, 2012 12:38 PM

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The average American kitchen stands at about 300 square feet, up 50 percent from the early 1970s, according to the National Association of Home Builders. In some megahouses, the kitchen alone can top 1,000 square feet. At the other end of the spectrum, more Americans are flocking to metro areas where they're willing to trade expansive living space for better access to amenities. These opposing forces are having an impact on appliance design, especially refrigerators, which now range from prodigious to petite. Consumer Reports' latest tests found winners at both extremes.

Living large. Manufacturers have been competing for bragging rights to the biggest fridge on the market—good news if you have a massive home with many mouths to feed. In our current Ratings of more than 230 refrigerators, Samsung is top dog in terms of size with its 32-claimed-cubic-foot French-door refrigerator, the Samsung RF323TEDB[SR] for $3,300. This models makes our recommended list on the strength of its excellent temperature performance and energy efficiency, and its dual evaporators should help keep your food fresh longer.

Two 31-claimed-cubic-foot French-door fridges also make our winner's circle. The LG LFX31925[ST], $3,000, which scores somewhat better than the Samsung for usability and noise, and the Kenmore Elite 7205[3], $2,800 which also does better for noise but is slightly less energy efficient.

But wait ... there's more. In our labs right now is the industry's first 33-claimed-cubic-foot French-door refrigerator, the LG LFX33975ST for $3,500. We'll let you know how it performs as soon as testing is complete.

Living small. The trend toward smaller living is being driven largely by baby boomers, who are downsizing from their bigger abodes, and millennials, many of whom say they plan to settle down in urban centers, rather than beating the usual path to suburbia. Both cohorts are willing to live in smaller homes with more streamlined kitchens that would be overwhelmed by a behemoth fridge like those above. Hence the rise in 30-inch-wide models with 20 cubic feet of capacity or less.

In our current Ratings, several of these petite models stand out, starting with the Maytag MBF1958XE[W], $1,150, a conventional bottom-freezer with excellent temperature performance and very good energy efficiency. And if you're looking for a built-in bottom-freezer that sits flush with the cabinets, consider the Bosch Integra B30BB830SS, $6,500. Like all built-ins, it costs a lot more than others, but it delivers superb temperature control and it's exceptionally quiet, which is important in smaller homes.

We're also seeing more 30-inch-wide models in the popular French-door style. Two newly-tested examples: the Whirlpool WRF560SEY[M], $1,800, and the KitchenAid KFFS20EY[MS], $1,900. Both scored very well for temperature performance, efficiency, and noise. They missed our recommended list because they lack certain ease-of-use storage features, but you may be willing to settle for less to get the look you want in a small, stylish refrigerator.

Daniel DiClerico


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