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Kenmore 23.8 cu. ft. Top Freezer Refrigerator review: This solid Kenmore fridge gets held back by bland design

This classic-looking fridge is a surprisingly strong performer -- but we can't recommend it.

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Ry Crist
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Ry Crist

Senior Editor / Reviews - Appliances

Originally hailing from Troy, Ohio, Ry Crist is a text-based adventure connoisseur, a lover of terrible movies and an enthusiastic yet mediocre cook. A CNET editor since 2013, Ry's beats include smart home tech, lighting, appliances, and home networking.

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When most people picture a fridge upgrade, they don't picture a top freezer. It's the most basic of styles -- the classic freezer-on-top, fridge-down-below approach that many of us grew up with. If you're upgrading your fridge, there's a good chance that a top freezer is the very thing you're trying to replace.

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7.9

Kenmore 23.8 cu. ft. Top Freezer Refrigerator

The Good

Kenmore's largest top freezer fridge offers a tremendous amount of storage space, a slew of helpful features, and an impressive knack for holding consistent, accurate temperatures.

The Bad

The 79432 is a boring fridge to look at, and if you want it in stainless steel, you'll need to spend hundreds more. It's also less efficient than most of the competition.

The Bottom Line

If you're looking to upgrade your refrigerator's features and storage capabilities without splurging on a trendy design, this fridge fits the bill, but other fridges just like it offer considerably better value.

Don't be too quick to move on, though. For the same price as a low-end French door unit, you could get a high-end top freezer, one that offers better features, better performance, and more space for your groceries. Take the Kenmore 79432. At a retail price of $1,420 (you'll find it closer to $1,200 on the floor at Sears), the 79432 offers a best-in-class 23.8 cubic feet of storage space, along with a bevy of useful features that help it feel the part of a legitimate upgrade.

A Kenmore fridge that's as big as they come (pictures)

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Unfortunately, it doesn't look the part. The build is basic and boxy, available only in plain white or black finishes. There's a stainless steel version (the 79433), but it retails for an excessive $1,780 -- several hundred more than comparable top freezer upgrades from brands like Whirlpool, GE, and Frigidaire that all come with stainless-steel finishes by default.

Also cheaper: the newest stainless-steel version of the LG model this Kenmore fridge is based on (Kenmore doesn't manufacture its own appliances -- instead, it purchases existing models from its competitors, rebrands them, and sells them at Sears). That cheaper LG model offers the same capacity, the same features, a much better design, and an uptick in efficiency. As much as I like the Kenmore 79432, it's a poor value by comparison. If you catch a particularly good sale price, jump on it, but I can't recommend it otherwise.

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Nothing much to look at

The Kenmore 79432 has a lot of strong points, but exterior design isn't one of them. There's very little style at play here, even by top freezer standards. If you're looking for something that'll make your kitchen look a little more modern, then you'll be better off with better-looking top freezers like the slate-finished GE GTE18GMHES or the stainless steel Frigidaire Gallery FGTR1845QF .

Fortunately, things get better on the inside. You'll find glass, spillproof shelves -- a nice upgrade over the wire racks that you'll find in cheaper top freezers. There's also a pantry drawer that runs the width of the fridge, a fancy feature more commonly found in French door models. The crispers and in-door shelves feel fancy, too, with a pleasant-looking diamond contour lining the bottoms (it's a staple of LG fridge design, and a dead giveaway of this model's origin).

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A pantry drawer runs the width of the fridge -- a nice feature not commonly found in top freezers. Tyler Lizenby/CNET

You'll also see plastic sliders in each of the in-door shelves, another LG design touch that carries over. They feel a bit flimsy, but actually come in handy when you want to start sectioning things off -- condiments on the left, beer and wine on the right, etc.

All in all, it's a nice interior, and one that makes good use of this refrigerator's ample storage space (17.6 cubic feet in the fridge alone). The shelves were easier than expected to reorganize -- even that pantry drawer can be relocated if needed. And while there aren't any shelves that slide in or fold up out of the way to make room for tall items, I found I didn't need them thanks to the abundance of vertical clearance above each of the in-door shelves.

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Other features include a water dispenser stashed along the inner left wall of the fridge cavity. It's a little odd having to open the fridge to dispense water, and I'm not sure that I'd use it that often, especially if my groceries were at all in the way. Still, I suppose it's better to have it than to have no dispenser at all.

You'll also need to open the door if you want to adjust settings, which isn't at all uncommon for a top freezer model like this. You won't get any advanced controls or a slick-looking touch panel -- instead, just a single dial to adjust the temperature between "cold" and "coldest" settings. We set it right in the middle (the default setting) and wheeled it into our test chamber to see how well it performed.

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Impressive performance

Most refrigerators default to a 37-degree setting, and some hit the mark with more accuracy than others. The Kenmore 79432 hits it with more accuracy than almost all of them. After tracking the minute-by-minute temperature in each region of the fridge for three days, we got near perfect averages in the body of the fridge, each main shelf coming in within a degree of that 37 degree target.

The door and crisper bins ran a few degrees warmer, which is typical, but the averages all stayed below 40 degrees, a benchmark for food safety set by the FDA. Only the butter bin crept up into orange territory, but that's what butter bins are designed to do. It's obviously a pretty terrific result -- one of the strongest I've seen from any of the dozens of refrigerators we've tested this year.

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The minute-by-minute graph of the default setting test offers a closer look at how the 79432 operates. Those blue lines -- the three main shelves in the fridge -- all sit tightly at 37 degrees F, with the doors staying steady around 39 degrees. Interestingly, the fridge seems to overcorrect a bit during our regularly scheduled door openings, which we do to simulate real-world usage. Usually, those door openings result in noticeable temperature spikes, but with the 79432, the fridge blasted the cold and actually drove the temperature down below the target. Instead of needing a few hours to cool things back down after a door opening, the 79432 actually needed a few hours to warm them back up.

How we test refrigerators (pictures)

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Next, we dialed things down to the "coldest" setting and repeated the test. Different manufacturers have different takes on how cold a refrigerator's coldest setting should get, but most put it right above freezing, at 33 or 34 degrees. That's a good target -- at the coldest setting, you want your groceries to get as cold as possible without anything starting to freeze.

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Performance was just as strong when we dialed things down tot he coldest setting. Tyler Lizenby/CNET

With the Kenmore 79432, that coldest setting seems to sit closer to 35 degrees, with the three main shelves averaging out to 34.7. It makes sense when you consider the 79432's penchant for overcorrecting with the cold. Again, those door openings actually drove the temperature down, with negative spikes that approached that 32 degree freeze point, but never quite crossed it. If the overall average was any lower, you'd start to see frozen milk.

The freezer offered consistent performance, too. It has its own temperature dial, which we left at the default setting through both tests. Ideally, changing the temperature in the fridge won't affect the temperature in the freezer, and the 79432 delivered, with near identical averages in both tests. As freezers go, it's slightly colder than it might need to be, with average temperatures that sit a few degrees below zero. If I owned the 79432, I'd probably be comfortable dialing it up a setting or two and shaving a few cents off of my daily energy use.

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As roomy as top freezers get

The 79432 boasts a total capacity of 23.8 cubic feet, 17.6 of which are allocated to the fridge. Those are excellent numbers -- no other major top freezer manufacturer offers much more than 21 cubic feet in total, or much more than 15 cubic feet in the fridge. The one exception, of course, is LG, which makes the top freezer model the Kenmore 79432 is based off of.

With all of that space at its disposal, the 79432 made quick work of our capacity tests. After moving the middle shelves up just a bit, I was able to fit all of our standardized grocery load and all six of our stress test items into the fridge at the same time. The door shelves were a key factor -- each of the two main shelves is wide enough for scores of drinks and condiment bottles, and each one offers enough vertical clearance for tall stuff, too. There's also a third shelf along the bottom of the door. It's a little more narrow, but it offered plenty of space for kid-friendly juice boxes and pudding cups (and at a kid-appropriate height, no less).

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The butter bin wasn't big enough for anything more than a couple of sticks. Ry Crist/CNET

The pantry drawer in the center of the fridge was a big help, too, offering a convenient place for smallish items that would have otherwise eaten up shelf space (and wasted the usable capacity above). With less than four inches of vertical clearance, it isn't as flexible as the 5-plus-inch Custom Chill Drawer in high-end LG fridges like the LMXS30786S , and it doesn't feature its own temperature controls, but it's still a nice addition at this price point.

All in all, I can't imagine a much better result from a top freezer. My only complaint is that the butter bin was a bit cramped -- too much so to accommodate a family-sized tub of margarine. Quibbles don't get much smaller than that.

Capacity vs. Efficiency (large top freezers)

Kenmore 79432LG LTCS24223SWhirlpool WRT541SZDMFrigidaire Gallery FGHI2164QFGE GIE21GSHSS
Refrigerator capacity 17.6 cubic feet17.6 cubic feet15.2 cubic feet15.4 cubic feet15.1 cubic feet
Freezer capacity 6.2 cubic feet6.2 cubic feet6.1 cubic feet5.1 cubic feet6.1 cubic feet
Total storage space 23.8 cubic feet23.8 cubic feet21.3 cubic feet20.5 cubic feet21.2 cubic feet
Energy use 547 kWh / year501 kWh / year399 kWh / year471 kWh / year480 kWh / year
Estimated yearly energy cost ($0.12 per kWh) $66 $60 $48 $57 $58
Energy cost per cubic foot $2.77 $2.52 $2.25 $2.78 $2.74
Energy Star certification YesYesYesYesYes
Suggested retail price $1,420 $1,200 $1,149 $1,300 $1,300

You might also want to take efficiency into account when upgrading to a bigger fridge like the 79432. As one of the largest top freezers available, it isn't surprising that it'll add more to your energy bill each year than the competition -- as a bigger fridge, it has a bigger job to do.

However, divide that yearly expense by the total capacity to get the cost of cooling each cubic foot, and you'll see that the 79432 is also less efficient than much of the competition. This includes the equally spacious, practically identical LG LTCS24223S -- the closest thing in LG's current catalog to the fridge the 79432 is built from. It's about 10 percent more efficient than the 79432, and it costs less.

The math doesn't hold up when you compare the 79432 to smaller models, either. For instance, with a total capacity of 17.5 cubic feet, the GE GTE18GMHES slate top freezer offers about 74 percent of the 79432's storage space, but at a yearly expense of $43, it costs about 65 percent as much to run. From a strict efficiency perspective, the smaller GE fridge offers more bang for your buck, costing about 30 cents less to cool each cubic foot each year.

This isn't to say that the 79432 is an inefficient fridge, but given what it costs, it's disappointing to see it get beat almost across the board. All of the other large top freezers in that chart will add less to your energy bill, but the 79432 retails for at least $100 more than all of them. Those competitors are all stainless steel models, too. Compare them with the stainless steel 79433, which retails for $1,780, and things get even worse.

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A great fridge, but...

The Kenmore 79432 gets a whole lot of things right. The features are sound, the interior is spacious, and the cooling performance is near spot-on. But if you're spending more than $1,000 for a top freezer, I think it's fair to expect something that looks at least slightly distinctive, and at a retail price of $1,420, the 79432 doesn't. The stainless-steel version, the 79433, is a big step in the right direction, but it's priced too high for my tastes at $1,780. The biggest stainless steel top freezer offerings from Kenmore's main competitors all cost $1,300 or less.

The 79432's key advantage over those cheaper competitors is that it's bigger than all of them, but that's not true of its twin, the LG LTCS24223S. Along with the same features and an equally spacious interior, that model boasts a better-looking stainless-steel design, more efficient performance, and a lower price point. With that fridge in the picture, I can't recommend the 79432 outright unless you catch it at a steep discount.

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7.9

Kenmore 23.8 cu. ft. Top Freezer Refrigerator

Score Breakdown

Features 6Design 6Performance 9Usability 9