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The refrigerator features you can't live without

Refrigerator manufacturers are thinking outside the ice box

Published: April 04, 2014 10:30 AM

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Samsung T9000

Consumer Reports just tested a couple dozen new refrigerators, adding to the more than 250 models in our current refrigerator Ratings. Six models made our recommended list, which is becoming increasingly select as the number of models we test goes up. But even nonrecommended models might be worth a look, given their unique features. Here are the biggest takeaways from our tests. 

Four-door fridges are gaining favor. There are now 15 models in this subcategory of the popular French-door bottom-freezer. With the exception of the top-rated Samsung T9000, $3,500, which has two sets of side-by-side doors, four-door units feature a pullout drawer between the refrigerator and freezer. With the newly-tested Whirlpool WRX988SIBM, $2,600, the drawer's temperature can be set to store cheese, deli meats, fresh produce, or cold beverages. Though it performed very well overall, the Whirlpool just missed our top picks list. But we expect to see more of this type from the Michigan-based manufacturer, and from Samsung, LG, and GE.

GE Artistry ABE20EGWS

Manufacturers seeking new market segments. Speaking of GE, we were impressed by the retro styling on its new GE Artistry ABE20EGWS bottom-freezer, $1,100, including its high-gloss doors, horizontal handles, and old-school logo plate. GE is trying to attract Millennials, many of whom are first-time homebuyers, with its Artistry Series. To keep the price fairly low, it limited the features—no water dispenser, adjustable shelves, touchpad controls—which resulted in a poor ease-of-use score in our tests. But if you prefer style to fully-loaded features, the GE's solid temperature performance and energy efficiency make it worth considering.

Door-in-door compartments are here to stay. We first saw this French-door refrigerator feature, consisting of an extra compartment in an upper door that swings open with the push of a button, a couple years back. It looked like it might catch on with families and other households where easy access to snacks, beverages, and frequently used condiments is desirable. Based on the number of new models with a door-in-door compartment, that's clearly the case. The list includes the LG LFX32945ST, $3,000, one of our highest-rated refrigerators, with excellent temperature performance, energy efficiency, and quietness.   

Kenmore Elite 79023

Refrigerator sizes hit opposite extremes. Homes in the U.S are getting bigger, but actual households are getting smaller—the percentage with children present has declined nearly every year since 2003, hitting a low of 28.6 percent in 2013, according to the Mintel Group. The above-mentioned Samsung T9000 has the most usable storage capacity of any model we've ever tested. And we're seeing more units designed for smaller kitchens, such as the newly tested Kenmore Elite 79023, $1,450, one of the few 30-inch-wide bottom-freezers on our recommended list. Bottom line: Now more than ever, there's a refrigerator size to fit your needs.       

The future is in features. We're seeing more refrigerators that are excellent at maintaining consistent temperatures and saving energy. That's making special features a key differentiator. The Mintel Group reports that people who bought a refrigerator in the last two years were more likely than less recent purchasers to express interest in things such as high-capacity ice makers, temperature-controlled compartments, and sparkling water dispensers. Many of our recommended models already offer temperature-controlled drawers, and the recommended Samsung RF31FMESBSR, $2,900, is the first of its kind to dispense sparking water.

—Daniel DiClerico

   

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