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

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.

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.

Ry Crist/CNET

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).

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 79432 LG LTCS24223S Whirlpool WRT541SZDM Frigidaire Gallery FGHI2164QF GE GIE21GSHSS
Refrigerator capacity 17.6 cubic feet 17.6 cubic feet 15.2 cubic feet 15.4 cubic feet 15.1 cubic feet
Freezer capacity 6.2 cubic feet 6.2 cubic feet 6.1 cubic feet 5.1 cubic feet 6.1 cubic feet
Total storage space 23.8 cubic feet 23.8 cubic feet 21.3 cubic feet 20.5 cubic feet 21.2 cubic feet
Energy use 547 kWh / year 501 kWh / year 399 kWh / year 471 kWh / year 480 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 Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
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.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

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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