Trail Impressions: Dometic CFX3 Portable Fridges Full Review & Overview

Introducing the Dometic CFX3 Fridge Line: Mountable Portable Fridge For the Overlanding in the 5th Gen 4Runner

Let’s get this out of the way first: A fridge is a game-changer in a vehicle. Period.

What I won’t say is that it’s a requirement for everyone, because it isn’t. For those who travel or camp for long stretches or just for those who daily drive their vehicles, the addition of a fridge is a huge asset. Here’s my fridge story…

Back in 2018, I had just gotten married and my wife and I were embarking on our 2-week long honeymoon road trip from California to Canada and back.

I had been using my loyal cooler for years on camping and expedition-style trips without much issue, but I knew that for this trip, I needed to step things up a notch. I ended up purchasing a brand new Dometic CFX55 portable fridge the week before we left.

For those 3,500 miles, I was constantly reminded that I had made a smart choice to add a fridge into the 4Runner. No ice, no mess. Just easy refrigeration. Even my wife admitted part way through our adventure that something as “extra” as a fridge really made the trip much more enjoyable because it was just… there!

In the years since then, I have packed that same fridge full of supplies countless times from week-long stints in the desert to weekend retreats in the mountains. My CFX55 has been a workhorse for me and, to this day, it still is. When I saw that Dometic was releasing an updated version of their fridge at SEMA in 2019, I was excited to see all they had done to improve the proven CFX.

At the show, the folks in the booth were happy to show me around the new CFX3 and all of the minor, but very relevant, updates they made for the new line-up.

The CFX3 Portable Fridge – 55IM Version

Flash forward to 2020.

Dometic gave me the opportunity to show you all what they’d been working on in the form of a pair of new CFX3 fridges in the 55IM and 75DW variants. Unfortunately, those fridges sat idle through the second half of 2020 because, well, I had just moved from California to Oregon and traveling/camping was a bit more difficult thanks to COVID.

But here we are…new year, new us. I am finally able to show you all what these new fridges are all about! To demonstrate this, you’re going to see more about each of these models in the coming months, both individually and pitted against each other.

To introduce the new CFX3, let’s focus on the 55IM.

The Exterior

The new CFX3 has kept the same general exterior look as its predecessor with some welcomed adjustments. The plastic handles on the CFX have been replaced with more robust metal handles, eliminating any bowing that might happen when using them as tie-down points (something I experienced with mine).

Covered Power Ports

Open power ports on the back now have a cover over them to keep dust out while on the trail.

Hi-Res Color Screen Display

The basic temperature display and menu from the CFX are now viewed through a color high-resolution screen that shows temperature settings, incoming voltage, and an actual interior temperature. Within the settings on the display, you can control low voltage cutoffs, temperature alarms, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth settings.

For the dual-zone versions, you can set zone settings and, for the 55IM, you can turn the built-in ice maker on or off (more on that later). This new screen gives the user a lot more control over the fridge from the fridge itself. Next to the screen, the CFX3 still has a built-in USB-A port for charging your devices!

WiFi and Bluetooth Integration

If you want to control the fridge away from it, the new CFX3 app for Android and iOS allows control of the fridge from WiFi or Bluetooth. This addition of WiFi connectivity is very welcome as with the old CFX, connecting via Bluetooth would disconnect you from other BT sources like your 4Runner’s radio. Not an ideal situation when you’re mid-guitar solo and Stevie Ray cuts out. The new app is easy to use and is packed with the same features and data available via the built-in screen. It’ll also alert you when you have a low voltage input, as shown in the photo above.

The CFX3 55IM is comparable to the CFX55 with only minor variations in size and details. It retains the same overall color scheme and plastic exterior housing.

The Interior

Opening the lid of the CFX3 does two things.

First, it shows you that they used the same reversible hinges found on the previous model. This is a helpful feature for setting up the fridge for different vehicles with different configurations. I needed to reverse mine from the factory orientation for the backseat of the 4Runner right out of the box using simple hand tools.

Air-tight Automotive-Grade Rubber Seal

Second, it reveals an updated lid seal that uses an automotive-grade rubber seal to keep the cold in and the heat out. My old CFX had a gasket that had a small amount of play in it, never creating a solid seal. I had to resort to adding some additional foam of my own to keep the lid from rattling on washboard roads. That’s not the case with the new lid and seal. Solid as a rock.

Removable & Rearrangable Baskets

Inside the CFX3 55IM, the small shelf above the compressor has been replaced with a basket. This helps with loading the fridge as both the main and small baskets can be brought inside to pack up. The reason they did this was to allow for the 55IM’s signature feature, the ice maker. Yep, you read that right, an ice maker. Under the small basket is a little compartment with two covered ice trays that will freeze when activated, making your campsite happy hour that much more impressive with iced cocktails!

All-New Ice Maker!

The main basket in the 55IM now has the ability to be rotated so the divider can go with or across the length of the fridge. My previous model only allowed for the divider to run across the fridge, which was cumbersome at times. This is a helpful variation that allows for different fridge layouts for different vehicle setups.

One other thing to note about the interior is that it has been reversed on the 55IM, with the shelf and compressor now residing on the opposite side from the display on the outside. This puts the deep part of the fridge closer to where you are, as most fridges are oriented with the screen facing the closest door like mine. It also retains the same small LED light inside to light up your food and beers at night.

The Trail Takeaway

I was pleasantly surprised when I looked over all of the added and altered features of the new CFX3 fridges as Dometic had somehow changed all of the minor things that had annoyed me with my previous model. Literally, all of them… They managed to keep the good parts of the fridge exactly how I liked them too, which made the switch-over easy for me.

Installing it in the 4Runner was the first time I had taken out the original CFX in the 3 years I had it in there because, frankly, it just worked. Dometic did their homework and took their customer’s feedback with the development of the CFX3, and it shows.

In the coming months, I will be using the 55IM in the 4Runner to find any chinks in the armor of this product, if there are any.

We’ll be doing a real-world head-to-head energy use comparison with the 75DZ and my original CFX55 to see how they compare to each other. I’ll also be showing you some great tips on how to pack both of the fridges (55IM and 75DZ) with tricks I have learned over the years, and showing how they both fit in the 4Runner in different orientations.

Do you have anything you’d like to see us do with the new CFX3 fridges?

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