The $500 KitchenAid Pro Line looks like a million bucks, but toasts like a knockoff.
For $500, you might believe a toaster could fly. The KitchenAid Pro Line 4-Slice Toaster looks the part. Metallic sliders accent the bulky white exterior. A row of lights that could be running down the aisle of an airplane show you the darkness setting and blink away as the toaster gets closer to finishing its cycle. Put in your bread, and a pleasant ding will sound as the toaster senses it and gets to work, reminding you, perhaps, to fasten your seatbelt for the ride.
Except, with this toaster, you're not in for a pleasant trip. For the $500 MSRP (you can find it for as little as $400, but still), it really is taking you for a ride. It doesn't do anything special. It makes toast, and not all that well. When the cycle ends, you'll hear another ding, and I consistently found this underpowered and ludicrously expensive machine cooked the toast much less than it should have. The only flying it'll actually do, then, would come when you get fed up with paying this much for undercooked toast, and you launch this $500 machine out the window.
When you spend more for a toaster, you should expect three things -- great design, high speed and quality toast. The KitchenAid Pro Line delivers soundly on the first one, but downright fails at the other two.
This toaster looks good. It would be right at home in a designer kitchen. It's reminiscent of the old-fashioned KitchenAid Mixer, but at the same time using its lights and dials to whisper of technological prowess and power. It's a statement piece.
Its features, while not going much further than an ordinary toaster in functionality, come with a flair to help you continue showing off beyond the initial visual impact. Put in your toast, and it'll sense the weight and lower it for you with an audibly pleasing ding. Again, it's reminiscent of the tone you'd hear on an airplane.
Set the darkness with a slider that lights a small row of LEDs above it. Above that, the buttons for "Bagel," "Frozen," "A Little Longer," and "Toast/Cancel" gain a backlight when you press them. They all function as you'd expect.
"Bagel" toasts only one side of the slot, so you can get the cut side crispy while gently warming the other. "Frozen" adds time to the cycle for the sake of defrosting. "A Little Longer" tacks on a little extra time while the toasting is in progress. "Toast/Cancel" helps if the toaster starts before you're ready, or if it doesn't sense the weight of your food and you need to start it manually.
The only design element that falls short is the width of the slot. From grate to grate, it's only 1 1/4 inch. That's smaller than a number of other toasters we tested, including the cheaper $110 KitchenAid KMT422 4-Slice Manual Toaster with a 1 3/8-inch slot. An eighth of an inch doesn't make a drastic difference, but it's odd that the more expensive model offers less usable space.
The KitchenAid Pro Line 4-Slice Toaster comes in three different colors. We tested the elegant white model. The pictures of the red and black versions look fantastic as well. All retail for $499 and you can purchase them on KitchenAid's website, Amazon, Williams Sonoma and other appliance dealers.
Looking at the KitchenAid Pro-Line, I could almost understand the logic behind a $500 toaster. Almost. If you want a beautiful appliance to adorn your designer kitchen and get your neighbors talking, mission accomplished. Once you start toasting, the automatic lowering and that ever reassuring ding will keep the mystique flowing.
Except, while it's quite a cool aspect to show off, the automatic lowering turned out to be much better in theory than in practice. I'm particular about my toast, and I want the cycle to start when I say the word. The auto-on feature can't be turned off, and it always made me feel rushed to put both slices in, get them centered, and tweak my presets to where I wanted them before everything got underway.
You can adjust settings for a few seconds after the cycle starts, and you can always hit cancel if you're just not ready, but all of this seemed backwards to me. You don't actually gain much in exchange for the annoyance the auto-load causes.
The mechanical lift also makes it quite tedious to deal with stuck bagels or thick bread. You can't just push the lever down to work it unstuck. You also can't use the extra lift afforded by most levers to raise up a shorter slice and remove it from the toaster without burning your fingers. The mechanical lift adds to the coolness of the toaster, but also adds inconvenience to its day-to-day use. Again, the trade-off isn't worth it.
That said, it allows for one unique feature that I found fantastically useful -- automatic reheating. Most toasters include a "reheat" button to give your toast a little extra warmth if you forgot about it and it popped up before you were ready to feast. Initially, I thought the "A Little Longer" button was this KitchenAid Pro's version of that.
Then, I accidentally left my morning bagel in the toaster, and when I came back to it a minute later, I found the toaster had pulled it back down and kept it warm for me. Because of the weight sensor, it knew I hadn't removed the bagel. The KitchenAid Pro will wait 45 seconds after it pops up. Then it will lower and run a continuous warming cycle for up to 3 minutes.
When you return to the toaster, you can hit cancel any time to grab your snack, still pleasantly hot. If you wait the full 3 minutes, the toast will inevitably be a little drier than it would have been if you'd gotten it right away, but I still found this particular feature quite helpful. It's a great, simple touch that I wish more toasters could implement.
Unfortunately, because the keep warm feature is entirely automatic, if you do return to the toaster, remove your bagel, and then decide you'd like to reheat it a little, there's no way to do it. You'll have to run it through a short cycle and it might end up more browned than you intended.
I expected a few features of this ludicrously expensive toaster to be incontrovertibly useful. Unfortunately, for everything it adds, an accompanying annoyance follows.
It does stay nice and cool, relatively speaking. After five runs, you could touch anywhere on the front or sides without getting burned. The burn temperature is 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Other than the top, the hottest point of the KitchenAid Pro reached 136 degrees at the end of run five -- a great result, and the one aspect where the KitchenAid Pro earns a distinct advantage over its lower and mid-range competition.
For comparison, the $30 Hamilton Beach Classic Chrome Toaster passes the burning point after the first run and gets up to 180 degrees by the fifth test. The top mid-range models, the $100 Frigidaire Professional 4-Slice Toaster and $100 Cuisinart CPT-440, pass the burning points on test four and two respectively. The Frigidaire gets as high as 141, so just past the burning point, and the Cuisinart reached 160 degrees.
The high-end KitchenAid toaster finally finds a trump card with its temperature readings. That'd be enough to balance out the annoyances and keep it on par with its mid-ranged competition, if it was priced in the same ballpark.
Its design warrants attention, but its features and usability keep it on par, if not slightly below the competition, certainly not warranting the extra $400 to $450 you'd pay for it. Its last hope for redemption -- to prove $500 gets you more than an average toaster with a little extra shine -- fell to performance.
And performance lets it down more than anything else. It's lackluster at best. The KitchenAid Pro Line can't toast better than that $30 Hamilton Beach, let alone its mid-range competition.
To test toasters, we run bread through on low, medium and high, hoping for evenly browned results at a variety of darkness levels. Then, we run five cycles in a row to see if it can maintain an even level of browning throughout. Finally, we test if it can handle thicker bread, we try out the bagel preset, and we use frozen bread to see how well it defrosts.
Throughout the process, the results from the KitchenAid Pro came out undercooked.
On low, medium and high, the KitchenAid Pro produced toast below the ideal level of brownness. If you like your bread lightly cooked, this will work, as it can barely do anything more than that, even at its highest setting. If you or anyone in your family likes something different, expect to crank the darkness setting all the way up, or use multiple cycles for any sort of thicker bread.
The KitchenAid Pro can't handle variety. It's underpowered. On low, you'd be hard-pressed to tell that your slice had even been through a toaster. It needs to be at a 3 on its darkness scale (out of 7) before you start seeing any sort of brownness at all. The Frigidaire comes closest to the ideal on low, leaving the bread mostly white with just a touch of darkness.
Frigidaire and Cuisinart both prove that better toasters can indeed produce better results. Their lights are light, their darks are dark. Most importantly, when scaling from 1-7, you can find a wide range of darkness levels to match any preference. The KitchenAid Pro Line is missing the upper half of the scale.
You can also see stripes on the medium test in the toast diagram above. That's not horrible in terms of evenness, but it's certainly not great.
During the five sequential tests, the brownness level of the KitchenAid Pro Line does increase slightly. The ideal toaster maintains a steady hand in the midst of a strenuous task. Like with evenness, the results from the KitchenAid weren't bad, but they fell short of perfection.
With thick bread and bagels, one cycle on medium wasn't enough to brown the surface even slightly.
The problem lies in the wattage and the time allotted to toast. The KitchenAid Pro drew 1,525 watts -- slightly more than the 1,500 of its mid range counterpart, the KitchenAid KMT422 Toaster, and less than the Cuisinart CPT-440's 1,560.
The time it took to complete each test, though, was always significantly less than the other KitchenAid and on par with the speedy Cuisinart.
The KitchenAid Pro Line has artificial speed. The medium cycle finishes shortly after the Cuisnart's, but the Cuisinart cooked the toast to an actual medium darkness. With the KitchenAid, it's still far too light for medium. It runs half the distance in the same time it takes the Cuisinart to get to the finish line. It makes itself seem high-end by having much shorter cycles than the KitchenAid KMT422, but it doesn't use much more power or deliver heat any more effectively, so it doesn't actually cook faster, it just cooks less.
The issue encapsulates the problem with the KitchenAid Pro -- it's not a better toaster, it just looks like one.
Believe it or not, you actually can get more from a toaster by spending more. Both the $100 Cuisinart CPT-440 and the $100 Frigidaire Professional 4-Slice Toaster allow you to toast confidently to a variety of brownness levels. The Cuisinart even completes the trifecta by offering speed and style to go along with its toasting chops. Spending five times as much for the KitchenAid Pro Line 4-Slice Toaster makes much less sense. You do get a little more style, but actually end up with worse performance.
So I can recommend spending a little more for a toaster, but I cannot recommend the $500 KitchenAid Pro Line 4-Slice Toaster. You'll pay 16 times as much as you would for the $30 Hamilton Beach Classic Chrome 2-Slice Toaster and get similar performance. KitchenAid wants to sell you on its style, but for that much of a price jump, it needed to deliver much more substance.