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Whirlpool WRT511SZDM Top Freezer Refrigerator review: The forecast is frosty for this Whirlpool fridge

This workhorse from Whirlpool is the coldest refrigerator we've ever tested.

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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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4 min read

If you were to list the habits of highly effective refrigerators, pumping out cold air would sit right at the top. Thankfully, that's what you'll get from the $1,100 Whirlpool WRT511SZDM top freezer, and then some -- it's actually the coldest refrigerator we've ever tested.

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6.8

Whirlpool WRT511SZDM Top Freezer Refrigerator

The Good

The Whirlpool WRT511SZDM is the most powerful top freezer we've ever tested, with consistently low temperatures throughout the entirety of the fridge.

The Bad

Those temperatures were often too low, with main shelves falling below the freezing point even at the default setting. The design is also pretty plain, and there aren't any features worth getting excited about.

The Bottom Line

If your refrigerator's cooling performance matters more to you than fancy features or design flourishes, then this Whirlpool workhorse deserves your consideration.

How cold is too cold, though? The freezing point (32 F) seems like a fair place to start, and sure enough, this Whirlpool blows right past it, with an average body temperature of 26.4 F at the coldest setting. Even at the default setting, the refrigerator's bottom shelf comes in at 30.1 F.

That said, it's tough to fault a fridge for being too good at its job -- especially when you can dial it up a setting or two and save a little money on your power bill. If cooling performance that errs on the cool side is what matters most, then this no-frills top freezer fits the bill. Just don't blame me when your milk freezes.

Here's a Whirlpool fridge that really keeps its cool

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There's a whole lot of storage space in those in-door shelves.

Chris Monroe/CNET

Design and features

The WRT511SZDM is a sturdy-feeling stainless-steel fridge that's also available in white or black for $100 less. It's a very basic build that passes on significant design flourishes in favor of a safer, more traditional aesthetic. In other words, it's a token top freezer.

Open it up, and you'll find a grand total of 21.3 cubic feet of storage space, 15.2 of which are in the fridge compartment. That's a decent amount of room as far as top freezers go, but it's not as much as you'll get with the king-sized LG LTCS24223S -- that fridge beats Whirlpool by 2.5 cubic feet. Still, it was big enough to fit all of our test groceries, along with five out of six of our king-size stress test items (I couldn't quite jam the party platter and the extra large pizza box inside at the same time.)

By the way, the MVP of those storage tests was the in-door shelving. The shelves are sizable enough to hold a surprising amount of groceries, and there are enough of them to make it easy to section things off and organize everything just how you like. I also appreciated that there were plenty of different spots into which I could rearrange the shelves.

Top freezer fridges for around $1,000

Whirlpool WRT511SZDMLG LTCS24223SFrigidaire FGHT1846QFGE GAS18PSJSS
Fridge capacity 15.2 cubic feet17.6 cubic feet14.2 cubic feet13.5 cubic feet
Freezer capacity 6.1 cubic feet6.2 cubic feet4.1 cubic feet4.0 cubic feet
Total capacity 21.3 cubic feet23.8 cubic feet18.3 cubic feet17.5 cubic feet
Finish Stainless SteelStainless SteelStainless SteelStainless Steel
Available in Black Stainless Steel NoYes (+$100)NoNo
Energy Star Certified NoYesYesNo
Yearly energy consumption (kilowatt hours) 443 kWh501 kWh363 kWh399 kWh
Yearly energy cost ($0.12 per kWh) $53 $60 $44 $48
Energy efficiency (yearly cost per cubic foot) $2.49 $2.52 $2.40 $2.74
Suggested retail price $1,100 $1,200 $1,100 $1,000
Lowest retail price (as of 7/19/16) $900 $1,075 $850 $900

Feature-wise, there isn't much else worth mentioning, save for the "Flexi-Slide Drawer," which is just a drawer that slides from left and right beneath the top shelf to make room for tall objects below. That's really about it. No water dispenser, no spill-proof shelves, no extra bells or whistles whatsoever.

Despite the sturdy exterior, certain parts of the interior also felt a bit flimsy to the touch. The crisper bins don't glide out as smoothly as you'll see in nicer refrigerators, and some of the door shelves didn't snap into place as tightly as I'd like. The bar that blocks off the bottom in-door shelf was particularly annoying, popping out of place enough times during my tests that I was forced to tape it into position.

It all adds up to a fridge that doesn't do very much to set itself apart from the competition. That's somewhat forgivable in the top-freezer class, but still disappointing given that this is a $1,000+ refrigerator we're talking about.

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At the recommended setting, most of the refrigerator held tight in the low-to-mid thirties -- but that bottom shelf (light blue) ran way too cold.

Ry Crist/CNET

Cold as they come

If you're looking for the thing that sets this fridge apart from the competition, it's performance. Simply put, the Whirlpool WRT511SZDM is as cold a fridge as we've ever tested, which isn't necessarily a good thing, given that we saw temperatures drop below freezing even at the refrigerator's recommended setting.

Fridges typically default to a 37-degree setting, but with this fridge, your default temperatures are closer to 34 degrees, with a couple of spots that run even colder. That includes the bottom shelf in the body of the fridge, which spent the near-entirety of our 72-hour default setting test below the freezing point, and ultimately yielded an average temperature of 30.1 F. It's the light blue line at the bottom of that fridge graph up above.

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We tested the WRT511SZDM at its coldest setting, its recommended setting, and its warmest setting. None are ideal -- the "sweet spot" is somewhere in between the second two.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

We also tested the fridge out at its coldest setting, where things were obviously even colder. That bottom shelf was once again the coldest spot in the fridge, with temperature swings ranging from 28 F to an icy 18 F, with a shockingly cold final average of 22.3 F. Even the butter bin -- typically the warmest spot in a given fridge -- dropped close to the freezing point.

This is pretty much unprecedented in our tests. We've seen the occasional fridge dip below freezing in a single section or two during the coldest-setting test, but never the near-entirety of the fridge, and never anything in the default setting test.

Given that, I decided to run a third test at the refrigerator's warmest setting. Temperatures rose as expected, and perhaps by more than expected -- too much so to recommend the warmest setting for anything other than storing beverages.

That puts the performance "sweet spot" somewhere in between the recommended setting and the warmest setting. If I had this fridge in my kitchen, I think I'd try and find it by placing a jug of milk on the bottom shelf, seeing if it froze, and then dialing up from there. Not the worst problem to have, but an annoyance, nonetheless.

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Chris Monroe/CNET

The verdict

Frigid performance isn't an automatic deal-breaker -- some people would probably prefer it over a fridge that runs a bit warm. Still, it's enough to give me pause before recommending this refrigerator outright. The lack of interesting features and design touches doesn't help much, either.

That said, at $1,100, the Whirlpool WRT511SZDM is a no-frills top freezer with plenty of storage space that won't ever have a problem keeping your groceries cold. If you're not looking for a forward-thinking aesthetic from your icebox and you're comfortable dialing things up a tad to stave off icy milk, then it might merit consideration.

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6.8

Whirlpool WRT511SZDM Top Freezer Refrigerator

Score Breakdown

Features 6Design 6Performance 6.5Usability 8
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