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Top-freezer fridges are the most reliable and least expensive

It's not the cheapest top-freezer refrigerator out there, but no fridge of its type gets more positive feedback than the Kenmore 79432 (Est. $1,150). It's named an Editors' Choice and Best of the Year winner by Reviewed.com and earns a solid 4.5-star rating following more than 100 reviews at Sears.com. The Kenmore 79432 comes in a white finish, but the identical refrigerator is available in black as the Kenmore 79439 (Est. $1,150). If your budget allows and/or your sense of style demands it, $200 more will net you the Kenmore 79433 (Est. $1,350), the identical refrigerator in a stainless steel finish. This refrigerator in the stainless finish is reviewed by an independent testing organization and performs well enough to earn a Recommended label.

Temperature performance isn't this refrigerator's greatest strength, but all agree that is it more than satisfactory. Reviewed.com notes that temperature fluctuations in the freezer could lead to freezer burn for items that are stored long term, but is very impressed by the performance otherwise. "In our lab tests, the 79432 consistently kept the temperatures right where they should be, and were warmest at the bottom-which benefits the produce in the crisper drawers," says Ethan Wolff-Mann.

Testers find plenty of usable storage space -- and lots of touches to maximize that space -- in this 33-inch wide, 24- cu. ft. fridge. That includes adjustable glass shelves, two lower crisper compartments and a lot of on-door storage in both the refrigerator and freezer. Some of the copious interior is eaten up by an internal ice maker in the freezer and an internal cold water dispenser, but most reviewers count those features as pluses.

One oddity: Every expert praises energy efficiency, yet the fridge fails to earn Energy Star certification. Still, Wolff-Mann describes the ratio of the fridge's capacity to the power consumed (3.5 kilowatts-hours over four days) as being "very efficient." An independent reviewer awards the Kenmore 79433 its highest "excellent" rating for energy efficiency.

Not everyone is interested in spending more than $1,000 for a top freezer model. For those on a more limited budget, the 15.4-cu. ft. GE GIE16DGHBB (Est. $650) should move to the top of your list. This 28-inch wide model is offered in black, but the white GIE16DGHWW (Est. $650) is identical save for color. User reviews are still very limited, but the only sub-4-star rating we spotted groused more about delivery and installation issues than anything else, and still recommended the fridge.

While we wouldn't call Reviewed.com's review of the GE GIE16DGHBB glowing, it still scored well enough among like-priced competitors to earn an Editors' Choice award and be named a Best of the Year product. Value rather than performance is why, however. "With excellent energy efficiency, a built-in icemaker, and plenty of storage space, this is a great fit for the frugal consumer," says Matthew Zahnzinger.

Cooling, while not perfect, works "well enough" to keep perishables from expiring too soon. The biggest complaint is that the controls are inconvenient to see and reach, and there's a bit of play in the control knob, making it harder than it should be to precisely set the desired temperature. If that's an issue, Reviewed.com suggests investing in a refrigerator thermometer to get things set up properly. The icemaker, while small, is a nice extra at this price point, but everything else about the GIE16DGHBB -- such as the wire shelves -- is about what you should expect in a budget machine. Efficiency is excellent, and this GE fridge is Energy Star compliant.

For those on the tightest budget, the GE GTS16DTHWW (Est. $550) might be a consideration. This 15.5-cu. ft. model comes in white, and is available in black as the GE GTS16DTHBB (Est. $550). Features are limited, though there are dual crispers, and the design is utilitarian. Since there's no ice maker (though one can be ordered as an option) it's not surprising that the GTS16DTHWW is very energy efficient.

The one professional review we spotted for this refrigerator isn't overly impressive. Reviewed.com complains that the temperature is just as hard to set as with the GE GIE16DGHBB, and that even then, it's fair to expect temperatures to fluctuate a bit more than is desirable -- about 1 degree up or down in both the freezer and the refrigerator over time.

User reviews, on the other hand, look more promising. We spotted nearly 100 posted at HomeDepot.com -- though as noted in the introduction, a good chunk of those originate at the GE website. Be that as it may, most owners are pleased, and the refrigerator draws a 4.2-star score. Complaints are varied, and don't seem unusually high. Some merely wish their budget afforded them a larger or more feature-rich model, though a handful of reports of refrigerators that don't work properly can be spotted as well. Roughly 85 percent of owners that weigh in say that they would recommend the GTS16DTHWW to a friend.

Elsewhere in This Report:

Best Reviewed Refrigerators, Bottom-Freezer Refrigerators, Side-by-Side Refrigerators, French-Door Refrigerators, Counter-Depth Refrigerators, Compact Refrigerators, Buying Guide, Our Sources

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