Mark Houlahan
Tech Editor, Mustang Monthly
August 30, 2012

Many of us "seasoned" Mustang owners probably remember taking our air cleaner lids and flipping them over to get more air into the carburetor, or possibly making up some sort of duct using dryer vent hose or something similar to the carburetor from the grille area (akin to the famous Ford Thunderbolts). Those lucky enough to afford serious muscle, like a Mach 1, CJ, or Boss car, had true ram air via Ford's Shaker setup. So it's no surprise that 40-plus years later Mustang owners are still trying to get the coolest, densest air charge into their engines to make power. And like 40 years ago, Ford still offers some Mustangs with factory ram/cold air induction.

When the '10 Mustang came out, Ford designed an ingenious cold-air induction setup using a sealed air box that incorporated an induction sound tube. This tube channels the "rushing air" sound of the engine's incoming air under throttle to the driver's kick panel area for an aural "treat" for the driver. The OE designed cold air system was touted by Ford engineers as working so well that no aftermarket bolt-on cold air system would be an improvement. I'm sure many of the companies in our guide here today will argue that fact, but none the less, many Mustang owners simply like bolting on a cold air system for the looks and the sound.

For this buyer's guide we rounded up a sample of every manufacturer's kit and literally bolted them all on to the '13 Mustang GT of Brian Kirk, one after the other. Brian has only had the car for a short time with the only mods being a set of Flowmaster mufflers. With Brian's help we set out to test fit each kit on his car, take photos of each kit installed (better than a product shot on a table we think), and write up some notes on how each installation went and what you get for your hard earned cash. Each one of these kits have dyno proven hp and torque improvements, but we did not dyno test the kits. Instead we'll rely simply on the power figures provided by the manufacturers in their literature. Lastly, while several of these cold air kits are touted as "no tune required" by the manufacturer, a handheld tuner and a shop with late-model Mustang experience can really "wake up" your Coyote 5.0L with a little electronic wizardry (see our sidebar for more details on that). Note that all pricing was taken from during the month of June 2012.

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AEM Cold-Air Intake System

PN 21-8122
HP/TQ Gain: 8/10
Tuning Required: None

The AEM cold air kit is available in a polished aluminum or upscale looking gloss gray powder coat (powder coat version installed here). The aluminum induction tube mates to the throttle body via a silicone coupler and clamps and is routed to a fully sealed air box that seals to the stock Mustang cold air snorkel fed from the grille area. The AEM Dryflow oval air filter is made of non-woven synthetic materials. The filter is cleanable and does not use oil in the filter media. The kit reuses all OE hoses but does not come with any hardware to delete the sound tube, which is common with many people upgrading their '11-'13 Mustangs.

The kit includes an air filter maintenance gauge that fits into the air box and connects to the filter via a length of included vacuum hose. As the filter is restricted by dirt, the pressure change causes the gauge to move, easily alerting you to when the filter needs servicing.

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Airaid MXP Intake Systems

PN 451-264
HP/TQ Gain: 11/11
Tuning Required: None

The Airaid cold air system features a roto-molded black plastic induction tube that uses machined aluminum fittings to connect the stock emissions and sound tube to. If you opt to delete the sound tube, Airaid includes a plug for the firewall and for the induction tube. The filter is shielded from hot under hood air and the shield seals to the hood as well. The shield/air box is made from plastic and allows the use of the stock cold air induction snorkel to the grille. The shield even has an opening to reuse the sound tube retaining clamp from the stock air box lid. The filter is a high-flow synthetic material and does not require any oiling (PN 450-264 uses a filter that has to be oiled) and is attached to a bolt-in velocity stack adapter. Due to the upward angle of the induction tube you do need to be careful about hose clamp positioning at the throttle body, as we found the intake cover would not fully seat until we moved the clamp's head from 12 o'clock to about 9 o'clock.

BBK Performance Cold-Air Kit

PN 1768
HP/TQ Gain: 12/12
Tuning Required: None

BBK's cold air kit for the '11-'13 Mustang GT features a chrome plated steel induction tube, the only one in our roundup to use steel (others are aluminum or plastic). The chrome finish was top notch on our sample, but if the bling is too much for you BBK does offer a "black-out" version of this kit. The air filter shield is made of steel plate that is bent and cut to form a seal to the hood and surrounding areas. The BBK kit was also the only one that required removing the radiator cover and unbolting a radiator mount to attach the filter shield to. The filter shield is just that, a shield, and does not utilize the OE cold air snorkel (it's actually removed in the BBK instructions). BBK's huge air filter is a high-flow cotton element that requires oiling service intervals. The BBK induction tube utilizes the stock hose connections and relocates the sound tube below the air filter shield for a cleaner look, however there's no hardware included to eliminate the hose if you wish.