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Refrigerators
Beyond the basic box
Opened drawers of a Refrigerator
RUSH JOB This GE Monogram, at $3,700, has a temperature-control drawer for faster chilling or thawing.
Refrigerator manufacturers are hot for your dollar as they load up their latest models with more style and conveniences in an effort to surpass the more than 11 million units they sold two years ago.

Most major brands are now offering French-door models with side-by-side doors above and a freezer below. You’ll even find a French-door setup on built-ins from KitchenAid and Thermador.

Big brands are also piling on the options as bottom-freezers wind up in more and more kitchens. We tested a Sub-Zero built-in equipped with two bottom-freezer drawers, an arrangement designed for better organization. Price: a cool $7,600.

After months of rigorously testing more than 70 models from 20 brands, here’s what else we learned:

Trickle-down takes effect. Features once found only on midlevel and high-end fridges are showing up on less-expensive models. Water filters remove “off” tastes, while temperature-control bins keep food fresh. Spillproof shelves make cleanup a snap, while stainless exteriors are available on tested models as low as $725.

High style drops in price. If your dream fridge is a Viking or GE Monogram built-in but the prices give you nightmares, take heart. Both brands offer freestanding models that did well in our tests. While their $3,050 to $3,700 prices still aren’t cheap, they’re up to $3,400 less than some of these brands’ built-in models.

Water filters vary. All four filters we tested did an excellent job of removing bad tastes, but only the Whirlpool Pur 4396841 and Kenmore Pur Ultimate II 09030 did well overall. The GE Profile SmartWater MWF was judged good; the Frigidaire PureSource2 SWF2CB, only fair. The Kenmore was very good at removing lead and chloroform, while the Frigidaire was a poor performer in these areas. (See “Water filters.”)

Innovation continues. Jenn-Air is rolling out an oiled-bronze finish, a style alternative to the omnipresent stainless steel. And LG will unveil a $3,600 side-by-side refrigerator with a built-in 15-inch high-definition TV.


HOW TO CHOOSE

Start by picking a style that meets your family’s needs. You’ll find the pros and cons of the four different types of Refrigerators. But since function still trumps form, consider these factors as you research your next purchase on the Web or in stores:

Size it up. Whether you’re remodeling your kitchen or simply replacing your refrigerator, carefully measure the space available. Be especially accurate with the width--it’s the most critical dimension because that space tends to be limited by counters, cabinets, and other fixed objects.

Also measure the doorways and the route the refrigerator will travel when it’s delivered. When shopping, find out how much space is required for factors like ventilation and door clearance. A small mistake in measuring could be costly in time and money.

Check the claims. Manufacturers’ claimed capacity doesn’t accurately represent how much you’ll be able to stow. It doesn’t factor in the space eaten up by hardware, dispensers, and inaccessible areas. We measure capacity you can use.

Aim for efficiency. Refrigerators consume more electricity than any other kitchen appliance. Find the most efficient models in our Ratings (available to ConsumerReports.org subscribers). To determine your annual savings by replacing an old refrigerator, use the Refrigerator Retirement Savings Calculator at www.energystar.gov.

Select a reliable brand. You’ll find plenty of capable, low-priced refrigerators in our Ratings (available to ConsumerReports.org subscribers). But even a bargain-priced performer could leave you cold if it doesn’t hold up over time. Our repair history, right, compiled by the Consumer Reports National Research Center and based on 95,000 responses to our surveys, can save you some headaches by helping you choose a reliable brand.

With this information in hand, you’ll find a refrigerator that’s not only reliable at keeping food cold but also offers convenience features and styling that make the plain white box an appliance dinosaur.

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