Spring all-stars from Consumer Reports' tests

Impressive outdoor gear and other picks from the pros

Published: March 30, 2015 04:45 AM
Kenmore Elite 33577

After a rough winter, it’s time to reclaim your yard. At Consumer Reports we just finished testing a new crop of mowers and a new batch of grills and found some winners. We also discovered a quirky cart that doubles as a wheelbarrow yet doesn’t take up much space in the shed as well as some other head-turners. Here are five products that our editors, testers, and market analysts think are worth a look this spring.

A sturdy grill with lots of extras

Kenmore is giving Weber a run for its money in the grill department. While the Weber Spirit SP-320 , $600, is still our top mid-sized grill, the Kenmore Elite 33577, $950, has a sturdy enamel cabinet and plenty of extras.
Why we like it. The solid construction and high-grade stainless are impressive, and the main cooking area is the largest of all the mid-sized grills in our tests. There are four main burners, stainless steel grates, an electronic igniter, side burner, tank gauge, lights that make it easier to cook after dusk, and an LED-lit control panel. The Kenmore comes with a generous 15-year burner warranty. The grill can be converted to run on natural gas.
Here’s the score. In our gas grill tests, the Kenmore Elite 33577 was excellent at low-temperature heating and very good in our tests of high temperature heating, preheating, indirect cooking, and temperature range. And with all the bells and whistles it earned top marks for convenience.

Toro 20353

A mower that doesn’t need an oil change

For some homeowners, maintaining a mower is enough to make them hire a lawn service. The Toro 20353 self-propelled mower comes equipped with a well-sealed Briggs & Stratton engine that the company claims doesn’t need oil changes.
Why we like it. If you have a hilly property that’s hard to mow, this all-wheel-drive, self-propelled mower can make the job easier. In addition to no-prime starting, the premium, overhead-valve engine is likely to run more efficiently and start more easily than traditional side-valve engines. And Briggs & Stratton claims that better sealing ensures you'll never have to change this mower's oil—just top it off. It lacks the convenience of an  electric start, and the all-wheel-drive transmission makes the mower harder than usual to push when the engine isn't running.
Here’s the score. In our mower tests, impressive cutting evenness in bagging and side-discharge mode—and even better mulching without leaving clumps—were among the Toro’s attractions. And a washout port makes it easy to keep clean.

Worx Aerocart

A convertible cart that’s a workhorse

After seeing claims that the Worx Aerocart is an “8-in-1 all-purpose lifter, carrier, and mover that lightens every load,” we brought it into our labs for testing. The $160 hauler  converts from a garden cart and wheelbarrow to a hand truck.
Why we like it. The versatile cart is just the ticket for space-constrained homeowners. Because the cart has two wheels, it has an advantage over the standard wheelbarrow right off the bat: no tipping with heavy loads. The wheels are large and wide enough to remain stable even over soft soil or grass. They’re also non-inflatable so they won’t go flat between uses.
Here’s the score. When you need a hand truck, a blade in the cart’s front locks in place at a 90-degree angle. And when the blade is down, you lock in two extension arms to hook on a plant sling, which can also hold a five-gallon bucket. It’s in this position that the Aerocart’s engineering shines. In fact, the more you push down on the handles to raise the load, the easier it is to hold the object aloft to move it. That said, the cart wasn’t perfect in every configuration. But the fact that you can store it on end makes it a winner.

Frigidaire FKCH17F7HW

A freezer that doubles as a refrigerator

The Frigidaire FKCH17F7HW is the industry's first stand-alone freezer that can also double as an extra refrigerator, say to hold catering trays and drinks before a big party.
Why we like it. The convenience of switching from freezer to fridge mode is the perfect solution for those occasions when you're entertaining and need extra cooling. You’ll get 12.7 cubic feet of extra capacity and lots of well-placed shelves and bins.
Here’s the score. In our refrigerator tests, the Frigidaire delivered excellent temperature control and energy efficiency. In our freezer tests, the Frigidaire also delivered excellent temperature control, plus it’s self-defrosting, so you won’t have to periodically do that task by hand. Note that the unit's energy costs will vary depending on what mode you use it in. As a refrigerator, the Frigidaire costs $31 per year to operate, while as a freezer the annual costs go up to $83.

Tuft & Needle Ten

A comfy mattress that arrives on your doorstep

While a mattress seems like something you wouldn’t typically order online, Tuft & Needle
promises a mattress packed in a 66x16x16-inch box will arrive at your home in a week. You can order the mattresses from tuftandneedle.com or on Amazon.com.
Why we like it. In addition to the bargain price and hassle-free delivery, the well-priced Tuft & Needle Ten foam mattress, $500, has a number of good points. The company offers a “30-night trial” and if you don’t like the mattress they’ll help you donate it to a local charity or arrange a pickup. After donating the mattress, you’ll need to send the donation receipt to Tuft & Needle and they’ll process a full refund.
Here’s the score. In our mattress tests, the Ten was so-so for both back and side support but where the mattress did stand out was in how it showed only minor changes in performance after eight years of simulated use. Plus it transmitted little vibration from one side of the bed to the other, and changing positions was no problem. We also found it very breathable, important for shoppers who feel that foam beds "sleep hot." And since it measures only 10 inches high, you won't need deep-pocket fitted sheets.

—Mary H.J. Farrell (@mhjfarrell on Twitter)

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