We are pleasantly surprised by the unexpectedly high performance the Costway 54 displayed during our testing. And with a retail price around a third of some of the competition, it is a no-brainer to crown this powered cooler as our Best Buy. It reached lower temperatures than advertised, is impressively energy-efficient AND has an additional energy-saving mode, and is significantly lighter weight than the rest of the compressor coolers we reviewed. It's not the quietest model we tested, and it's slow to cool while also being less well-insulated than the other compressor coolers. We also have some concerns about its durability and longevity, but overall we are thrilled with the incredible value of this unit.
Costway 54 Review
Cons: Not durable, takes a long time to cool, insulation not great, fairly loud
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Our Analysis and Test Results
The Costway is a compressor-powered cooler that we tested with an advertised capacity of 54 quarts. It's advertised to cool from -4º to 50ºF and comes with a DC cord and DC to AC adapter.
The Costway packs an impressive performance in the temperature control arena. Rated to reach -4º F, we recorded this chilly chest maintaining a steady -8.9º, tied for lowest temperature with the Editors' Choice-winning Dometic CFX 50W. It also proved to be fairly accurate at displaying the actual internal temperature on its screen and was off by an average of only 3.8º F — again on par with the Dometic. The Costway is also rated to function in literally any defined climate, so you'll never have to worry if you can take it with you wherever you go. Though if it's warmer than 86º F, you'll need to run it on its maximum power setting.
As much as we are impressed by the Costway's lower-than-most minimum temperature, we aren't blown away by the amount of time it takes to get there - about 9.5 hours! This is one of the longest times to cool of any compressor unit we tested. Confusingly, some online claims also mislead consumers by claiming a minimum temperature of -68º. But don't be fooled, the instruction manual clearly states -4º. (Just another reason we feel it's important to read the manual of your powered cooler.) But despite this cooling time lag, we found the temperature control of the Costway to be quite excellent.
We aren't blown away by the insulatory capacity of the Costway. It's constructed of similar materials as the other compressor units we tested but gained the most heat over our 36-hour insulation test. In that amount of time, this cooler went from a frosty 34.7º F to a warm 62.6º, crossing the USDA food safety line of 40º after just 1.5 hours of being disconnected from power. And this was in a roughly 70º room! We can't imagine this performance would improve in the hot conditions of a muggy midsummer night. That being said, it also has a large internal volume to keep cool, which is always harder to do.
The Costway also loses points in this metric due to its lack of durability, which likely contributed to its poor insulation performance. During testing, we noticed our unit had a small crack in the outer plastic near the front handle, which only grew larger the more we used it. Due to this unit's extremely short manufacturer's warranty of just 90 days, we were unable to replace it with an unbroken model, and so its performance was tested as is. Scouring the internet for other user's reviews, we found that many people had similar durability complaints about the hinge, latch, and handles, as well as the unit unexpectedly quitting. Though our experience was limited to the damage the Costway had when we got it, we don't have a lot of faith in this particular model's longevity. Take care of this model.
One of the great strengths of the Costway is its relatively low energy usage for how large it is and how cold it gets. We tested this model as drawing a pretty low amount of power on its normal setting among competitor compressor coolers — lower even than two of the four thermoelectric models we tested (the Koolatron and Igloo)! If this 50.0-watt cooling draw isn't good enough for you, the Costway also has an "Eco" mode, that pulls just 38.9 watts, and is one of only two models we tested with such a feature. We are also pleased to note that the manufacturer's claims of how much power this unit draws are pretty on point! Which isn't always the case with some of the other models we tested.
This cooler, like the other compressor coolers we tested, has three levels of battery protection that you can set. The levels are named for how conservative they are and how much juice they will leave in your battery. The Costway has one of the least conservative shut-off settings of any model we tested, some of which are unlikely to leave enough power to start your car in the morning. Aside from that small flaw, the energy efficiency of the Costway is one of its best qualities.
Ease of Use
The Costway 54, though having a smaller capacity than its advertised 54 quarts (actually only 51.8 qt), is a pretty large capacity cooler. We easily fit 72 standard 12 oz cans inside. The Costway also has a handy LED light inside to help you more easily find what you're hungry for. And just in case that celebratory bottle of champagne you're bringing is extra tall, there are circular indents in the floor and lid of this cooler to accommodate just such an item. Importantly for off-road driving or boat usage, this unit can also operate at angles of up to 30º.
Though it claims to have the largest internal capacity of all the coolers we tested, the Costway was beaten in size by several others we reviewed. While we appreciate AC and DC cords being included with the unit, we found the AC adapter to be a bit janky, and it wouldn't always work in conjunction with the DC cord. We're also not big fans of the long-opening lid, as this makes it more difficult to open the cooler and retrieve items from the back and requires significantly more headroom to do so. To top it off, we had a difficult time stacking cans in the removable basket. It has awkwardly spaced wires for regular-sized 12 oz. cans and was more frustrating than average to load. No, this wasn't our favorite cooler to use, but it also wasn't our least favorite.
As a heavy compressor model, the Costway just can't hold a candle to the light weight of thermoelectric coolers. However, compared to the other compressor coolers, the Costway is a featherweight. Tipping the scales at 34 lb, this unit undercuts the competition by a double-digit margin! We find that to be quite impressive.
This cooler also has some of the longest cords, increasing the required proximity to a power source. The DC cord is 7' 9.5" which is one of the longer options we tested. And when you add the AC adapter and cord to the mix, you get a total length of 14' 7". With its long cords and low weight, the Costway is our favorite compressor model to haul around.
The Eco-energy feature alone is an incredible value for this icy chest and one that very few other coolers in this review could match. We also appreciate the internal light, which isn't found in every compressor model.
That being said, we are sad to see the lack of a drain in this model, which makes a huge difference when you need to clean your powered cooler. It's a pretty no-frills unit for a compressor cooler. It's also a fairly loud model, about on par with some of the others we tested — not the loudest though. One of our biggest complaints about the features of the Costway is its tiny window for the warranty. Just 90 days isn't a lot of time for something to go wrong and to go through the whole process of a warranty claim and return. However, policies like this are subject to change at time goes on, so be aware of what the policy is when you decide to purchase this cooler.
The shining glory of the Costway is its value. Fortunate for everyone's bank balance, this solid cooler is often found on sale well below its list price, further increasing its value. You can get this cooler for much cheaper than some of the other top-rated contenders without a huge sacrifice in performance. Though you may be taking a bit of a gamble on the durability and longevity of your particular unit, paying a third of what the competition costs always feels good.
The Costway is a pleasant surprise to us. It packs impressive performance into an inexpensive shell. It reaches lower minimum temperatures than expected, is amazingly energy-efficient and by far the most portable compressor-powered cooler we tested. Though it isn't the best insulated, the quietest or the longest-lasting cooler around, the Costway holds its own against some stiff competition and handily takes home our Best Buy Award.
— Maggie Brandenburg