Pros: superior anti-vibration, integrated heater, excellent user control.
Cons: None, except do not buy at any where near list price.
I was looking for a front load that had good anti vibration engineering and an on board heater. After much research and some educated pricing information I just bought the HE2t for $715 plus $180 for five (not three) year warranty at Sears.
The whirlpool 8500 and the version which whirlpool makes for Sears, the Kenmore HE2t, fit the bill for superior anti-vibration and included heater. The HE2t had the benefit of slightly more user control and a couple of extra features. For example the whirlpool 8500 will not allow a first warm water rinse and the HE2t will. this was a key feature for me.
The downside of Sears is they are relatively overpriced in general and especially with their buyers protection plan, but both can be discounted well below list.
I would not purchase a front loader without an integrated heater. These washers use very little water and as water enters it is very quickly cooled by the steel drum. Tests at gardenweb (their "laundry" forum on washing machines is the best) with thermometers show drops of about 30 degrees Fahrenheit! This means if you have a kid-friendly hot water heater setting of 120, your "hot" wash is a luke-warm 90 degrees in a top loader. By contrast a top loader, due to volume of water tends to drop about 10 degrees giving you 110.
This is exclusive of, and different from, other temperature controls like "sanitary" cycle" and ATC water mixing (Automatic temperature control). ATC can give you a proper warm and a proper cold, but not a proper hot. Hot with an integrated heater machine will give you 110 to 120. you won't get it without a heater. You can also boost to 150 for extra hot sanitary if you want, something you can't do without a heater.
User control and warm water rinse:
This was the difference between the whirlpool 8500 and the near twin He2t. there are a number of added user controls on the HE2T. Most important for me was warm water rinse on the Kenmore and none on the Whirlpool version.
My background is in chemistry and I know for a fact that modern detergent products and their many additives are going to be left in without at least one warm rinse. One then follows it with a final cold rinse to reduce wrinkles. This was a deal-breaker difference between the HE2t and the nearly identical 8500.
Vibration and noise:
If you are going for a second floor install, or any install over a non POURED concrete, then balancing, suspension and vibration dampening mechanisms are THE most important factor in your purchase.
Vibration is a different issue than noise. Noise by fill pumps, and insulation to reduce this, are meaningless compared to the bigger issue of whether the washer will harm your home or itself due to excessive vibration during spin.
Don't be fooled by claims about whisper quite wash cycle due to a quiet pump and good insulation. It is the spin cycle that is at issue.
A friend at home depot told me that 90% of front load washer returns are on the vibration issue on second floor installs. He wished they sold whirlpool or an equivalent to the Kenmore he2t because of the staggering number of returns of LG, GE and Maytags from vibration
Top loaders spin less fast and generate less harmful lateral forces parallel to the floor. Front loaders spin much faster and generate perpendicular force to the floor (up and down). Essentially old machines make shake sideways, but these new front loader machines can jackhammer the floor.
If the floor is not solid poured concrete (and do not confuse ceramic tile over backer board on joists as anything "solid") you need to consider the number one failing of these machines -- spin cycle vibration. Be aware that not only will a non solid floor create potential problems for the house, flooring, walls, windows and machine itself, but that non solid floors resonate back to the machine and exacerbate vibration in a catch 22 cycle. (vibration resonates, begets more vibration, which the floor resonates and causes more vibration, and on and on. then the floor weakens and the problem gets even worse.)
Objective tested criteria comparing various front loaders are unavailable. consumer reports intends to do this with their next round of testing after this became the number one issue. So one is left with makers claims and anecdotal information. One person might write in a review their machine shook their house, another might say they had no problem. this is not helpful. *One need to look at garden web and see people who changed out machines*. Fairly consistently second floor install people who changed out to the whirlpool duet sport line, including the 8300, 8500 and the mechanically (but not electronically) identical Kenmore HE2, HE2T found their problems were gone.
[Also if you are doing a second floor install over joists, make sure to place any washer near the bearing wall of the joists.]
If you are an educated consumer you already know that "buyers protection" and "extended warranties" are the highest profit item for the retailer and lowest value product a consumer can purchase. That is why they are hawked so aggressively by sellers and considered a rip off by consumer groups. I worked years ago in retail, and just like consumer reports and others will tell you, extended warranties are never ever worth it on consumer electronics, and on 99% of heavy household appliances it is never worth it.
That being said, after never buying an extended warranty in my life I decided to get one on this unit. Fact is that these large front loaders are a newly engineered concept. Smaller ones averaging half the capacity have been around in Europe for decades, but those smaller machines develop less than 1/3 of the g forces due to smaller drums. (Yes large front loader are in laundry mats but average much lower rpm in spin cycle -- so you spend more there on drying.)
Reading various forums one finds a LOT of repair needs on front loaders. One should be aware of this with a front loader. They are breaking down much more often than top loaders. One reviewer of this unit noted electronics are the same as complex top loaders -- but the issue is the mechanics which are subject to much higher levels of stresses.
Don't buy a front loader without an extended warranty, and put that into your equation when you rightfully compare it to a top loader which you should price without extra warranty.
Now the sears warranty is about double the price of box sellers. wow. They wanted 260 for five years! As it turns out this can be negotiated. I got $180. Still pricey and a significant factor vs top loaders where no extended is needed
Kenmore has a an average repair record and infrastructure. rapidly growing brands like LG have an atrociously stressed infrastructure and repairs involve long wait times (two months without a washer is a common horror). So sears is good on that count. My machine is working fine, so this is just research based information.
This machine washes noticeably better than our old top loader.
these machines use less energy and water but I am not kidding myself to think any front loader will save me much money. Front loaders cost about double front loader, and even more considering you meed a warranty and breakdown likelihood during and after any warranty. The present value of your money spent today will not be recovered even if energy costs go way up. But one does feel a little better reducing energy and water use.