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Finding a refrigerator that combines the capacity, convenience, styling, and price you want keeps getting easier.
Most new models, whether they cost $500 or $5,000, have their acts down cold when it comes to temperature performance and energy efficiency Useful features such as touchpad controls and water filters are becoming more common. And design options are expanding. Here are some trends driving what you'll see:
Cabinet-depth models gain momentum. The boom in kitchen renovations is fueling interest in cabinet-depth (sometimes called counter-depth) refrigerators. These slim, freestanding models fit nearly flush with your cabinets and counters, giving you a built-in look for less than half the cost of a true built-in from brands like Sub-Zero and Viking.
Bottom-freezers evolve. Bottom-freezers have also been growing in sales. Just about every major brand now has at least one model with the main compartment at eye level and the freezer below Bottom-freezers come in two styles: with a swing-open freezer door or a pull-out drawer. A new tweak from LG: The freezer drawer tilts down in front, making it easier to reach items in the back. Kenmore has a novel bottom-freezer topped by a fridge with narrow side-by-side doors.
Energy misers become even more miserly. Starting this year, it became tougher for refrigerators to earn the government's Energy Star designation, To qualify, refrigerators made after Jan. 1, 2004, must use at least 15 percent less energy than the maximum allowed by federal standards; previously, they had to use 10 percent less. Refrigerators that earned the Energy Star label under the old rules may still be in stores for several months, so ask a salesperson for details about models that you're considering. Utility-company rebates might be offered only for Energy Star models qualified under the new rules.
Controls diversify. More models have replaced rotary controls with electronic touchpads. Some display the temperature setting; a few show the actual temperature, which is more useful (ideal temperatures are 37[degrees] F in the fridge, 0[degree] F in the freezer). A few models have displays on the outside of the door, so you can check the temperature without opening the fridge.
In the Ratings on page 38, you'll find 49 models in five categories--from top-freezers to built-in side-by-sides, a category we haven't tested for a few years. With prices ranging from $450 to $6,000, there's a model for virtually every budget.
HOW TO CHOOSE
Most new refrigerators do a good job. with reasonable energy efficiency. Here are some pointers to help you choose wisely.
Focus on freezer placement and fridge depth. First Things First, on page 36, will help you decide where you want the freezer and whether you want to spend extra for a slimmer profile.
Consider capacity and dimensions. You can never be too rich or have too much fridge space. But the listed capacity is misleading. We've found that 20 to 40 percent of any model's claimed volume is eaten up by interior hardware and unusable nooks and crannies. Side-by-sides are the worst offenders. Some have only as much usable space as top-freezers with much smaller claimed volume. In the Ratings on page 38, we list our measurements of usable space.
Before you decide that bigger is better, keep in mind that larger fridges generally cost more than smaller models, use more energy, and, of course, take up more space. Exterior dimensions (listed in the Ratings) are critical; a fridge must fit through doors and hallways as well as in your kitchen. Built-ins are about 7 feet tall and may not fit under cabinets.
Identify the features you want. Shelves that move up and down, slide-out freezer shelves, gallon-size door bins, and beverage holders can make life easier. Combined water/ice dispensers are handy but have a fairly high risk of breaking. Once found only on side-by-sides, water dispensers are now available on more top- and bottom-freezers.
Icemakers are standard on most side-by-sides and can be added to other types for about $50 to $100. Most make about 3 to 4 pounds of ice a day, plenty for typical everyday use. But icemakers are prone to problems requiring repair.
If white is not your style, you can get many models in stainless steel. On freestanding models, stainless costs another $200 to $400. For built-ins, you'll pay $600 to $1,500 extra. While stainless is stylish, it shows fingerprints. Another option: a vinyl-covered metal finish that mimics the stainless look but resists smudging.
Decide whether quiet is a must. Many refrigerators can be noisy when the compressor cycles on and off. Check our Ratings to find out which models are quieter than others.
Factor in reliability. While you might be able to do without a dishwasher for a few days, it's harder to live without a fridge. Consult the repair history on page 37 before you settle on any brand.
Ratings refrigerators * Availability Most models at stores through Jne 2004. Within types, in performance order. Blue key numbers indicate Quick Picks; see "Quick Picks". Brand & model Price Overall score Similar models, in small type, comparable to tested model. Key Price shown is number for white finish. P F G VG E …