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Whirlpool WRT541SZHV Top Freezer Refrigerator review: This top-priced top freezer isn't worth the cold, hard cash

This ho-hum-looking fridge has a wild side -- namely, fluctuating freezer temps that left us cold (in a bad way).

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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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6 min read

Fancy French door fridges are all the rage, but if you don't care so much about design and just need something simple that'll keep your groceries cold, then a good ol' top freezer like the one you probably grew up with will still do the trick.

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5.8

Whirlpool WRT541SZHV Top Freezer Refrigerator

The Good

Whirlpool's biggest top-freezer fridge offers plenty of room for groceries, and it's a reasonably efficient option, too. At its default setting, temperatures throughout the entire body of the fridge stayed right on target.

The Bad

Temperatures in the freezer fluctuated wildly during our tests, averaging several degrees warmer than we'd like and spiking as high as 26 degrees F during regular defrost cycles. And while black stainless steel helps, it can only do so much -- this is a pretty boring fridge for the price.

The Bottom Line

You can do worse than this expensive top freezer, but you'll find better performance and better value if you shop around.

And, if you're in the market for a top freezer, then Whirlpool hopes you'll consider the WRT541SZHV. At a suggested retail price of $1,299 -- which is just about as expensive as top freezers get -- it offers 21 cubic feet of total storage space and an attractive, black stainless steel design.

All things considered, I think there are better values to be had elsewhere. For instance, at that same $1,299 price, the black stainless steel version of the LG LTCS24223S offers a bigger design with recessed handles, and better performance, too. For a few hundred less, the equally large Samsung RT21M6213SR gives you much sharper performance in the freezer and a better set of features. I'd buy both of those before spending my money on the Whirlpool WRT541SZHV.

You're using your fridge wrong

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Design and features

I'll keep this section pretty quick, because there's honestly not much to talk about. The WRT541SZHV is, quite simply, a very traditional top freezer build. The black stainless steel finish looks fine, and helps it blend in with more modern appliances on your retailer's show floor -- but at the end of the day, this is still a pretty old-fashioned appliance.

Inside, you'll find a total of 21.3 cubic feet of storage space, 15.2 of which are allocated to the fridge compartment. Those are decent numbers by top freezer standards, but not quite as big as the extra large-sized LG LTCS24223, which clocks in at a total of 24 cubic feet.

As for power consumption, the WRT541SZHV is Energy Star-certified with a total energy draw of 399 kWh. That'd add about $48 to your energy bill each year. Those figures are right on par with other, similarly sized top freezers that don't include an automatic ice maker by default, including the Samsung RT21M6213SR.

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The Flexi-Slide Bin beneath the top shelf slides from left to right to help make space for tall groceries beneath it.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

That brings us to features. You don't typically get very many of them with top freezer fridges, and the WRT541SZHV is no exception. The small deli drawer that hangs beneath the refrigerator's top shelf slides from left to right to make space for groceries below, though -- Whirlpool calls it the "Flexi-Slide Bin." Might come in handy here and there, but for the most part, it's a gimmick in an otherwise bare-bones build. Still, it slides quite smoothly, so give Whirlpool some credit for execution.

Shop around, and you won't find many top freezers that do much better as far as features are concerned. The aforementioned Samsung model does include a drawer up at the very top of the fridge compartment that spans the entire width of the appliance, which is rare in a top freezer, and you can convert the freezer into extra fridge space, too, which is actually pretty darned handy. The GE GAS18PSJSS is another seemingly boring top freezer with some unique extra functionality thanks to a water pitcher accessory that fills automatically whenever you dock it in place inside.

Those are outliers though -- if you're buying a top freezer, it's because you're looking for value, not because you're hunting for top-of-the-line features.

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Aside from one extra hot-spot beneath the butter bin, the average temperatures at the refrigerator's default setting look pretty good -- but keep an eye on those freezer temps...

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Performance

We test refrigerators by loading them into a climate-controlled test chamber and tracking the temperatures in each section of the fridge on a minute-by-minute basis for 72 hours at both the default and coldest settings. It takes about a week, but it gives us a wealth of data to dig into.

With three exceptions, each of the shelves, drawers and door bins in the WRT541SZHV's fridge compartment held tight within a 2-degree spread, ranging from 37.9 to 39.9 degrees F. That's very good -- 37 degrees is the ideal target temperature at a refrigerator's default setting, and anything above 40 starts to speed up the growth of bacteria.

But, like I said, there were three exceptions that returned averages outside of that ideal range. The first is the butter bin, which returned a predictably warm-by-design average temperature of 42.8 -- good for soft, spreadable butter and margarine. No problem there. The next exception is the door shelf right below that bin. It, too, ran warm, with an average default setting temperature of 41 degrees F. That's nothing to be too upset about -- door shelves often run a bit warm, which is why they're best suited for preservative-heavy condiments. Just know that you're better off keeping your milk in the body of the fridge.

Want the coldest milk possible? Store that half gallon on this refrigerator's bottom shelf, just above the crisper bins. That's the chilliest spot in the fridge with an average temperature of 35 degrees F. At every point during our tests, average temperatures were anywhere from 3 to 5 degrees warmer both above that shelf and below it, in the crisper bins. It also saw its temperature fluctuate more wildly than any of the other shelves, with regular swings up and down of about 4 degrees -- about twice as volatile as the rest of the fridge. 

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Enlarge Image
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Temperatures in the fridge dropped too low at the refrigerator's coldest setting, with three shelves -- including one of the door shelves -- returning an average temperature below freezing.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

35 F is a good, food-safe temperature, but be careful if you plan on dialing this fridge down below its default setting. That chilly bottom shelf gets downright frigid as you go, returning an average temperature of 28.5 at the appliance's coldest setting. The refrigerator's middle shelf came back below freezing at that setting, too, with an average temperature of 31.6. Even the bottom door drawer averaged 31.9. 

In sum, the refrigerator's coldest setting is noticeably too cold -- stick with the recommended default setting and you'll be just fine.

Speaking of cold, let's talk about the freezer compartment, where things were less fine. For starters, the freezer doesn't get its own temperature settings, which means that its performance is tied to the fridge. Want it a bit colder in the freezer? You'll need to dial the fridge down -- and, as I just pointed out, the fridge's coldest setting isn't ideal.

That's a problem, because the default setting wasn't a great fit for the freezer. Temperatures came back warmer than I'd like, with the freezer body averaging well over 5 degrees F and the freezer door shelves creeping up above 10 F. Temperatures that hold closer to 0 are more ideal. I'll also note that temperatures in the freezer saw regular swings of more than 20 degrees, which is flat-out bad. During one defrost cycle, the freezer's top door shelf reached a high of 26 degrees.

Compare that to the freezer in the Samsung RT21M6213SR, a same-sized top freezer fridge that I like quite a bit (it's the temperature graph on the left in that tweet above, with Whirlpool on the right). The Samsung never saw temperature swings during defrost cycles that exceeded 4 degrees, and it never spiked any higher than 13 F. Even then, those spikes only came during the regular door openings that we use to simulate normal use -- the freezer only reached 10 F or above a total of three times during the 72-hour test. 

The Whirlpool's freezer exceeded 10 F a total of 26 times during the 72-hour test -- more than once every 3 hours, and usually by 10 degrees or more.

I'd also note that the Samsung model retails for about $100 less than the WRT541SZHV. It might be time to give your top freezer a tune-up, Whirlpool.

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Tyler Lizenby/CNET

The verdict

Whirlpool's top freezer looks good in black stainless steel, but it's more than a little boring, and it isn't as strong a performer as it should be at its retail price of $1,299. In fact, performance was notably better with a larger top freezer from LG that costs the same and a same-sized top freezer from Samsung that costs less. Both of those alternatives offer better looks and better features than Whirlpool, too. Even if went on sale, the shaky performance in Whirlpool's freezer would have me thinking twice.

All of that makes this a tough fridge to recommend. Whirlpool refrigerators have performed pretty well in my tests up until now, but if I were in the market for a top freezer, I think I'd be looking elsewhere.

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5.8

Whirlpool WRT541SZHV Top Freezer Refrigerator

Score Breakdown

Features 5Design 6Performance 5Usability 7
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