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.

C&L Performance Air Intake System

PN 10699-11-P
HP/TQ Gain: 12-16/11-15
Tuning Required: Yes, or purchase optional “no-tune” insert kit

The folks at C&L take their airflow improvements seriously and their kit shows in the details. Starting with the induction tube, C&L uses an injection molding process for a consistent inside diameter throughout the tube's length. Secondly, a larger CNC machined mass air sensor housing ensures the system makes the most power possible (C&L does offer a no-tune required insert for the mass air meter housing). The plastic filter shield seals to the hood while the filter media is a high-flow material that requires normal cleaning/oiling intervals. The C&L kit comes out of the box with hose couplers and clamps already in place for an easy installation and if we had to take an issue with anything it would be the well-detailed written instructions would have been even better if they had some supporting photos to help the installer.

Injen Technologies Tuned Short Ram Intake System

PN PF9023P
HP/TQ Gain: 10/11
Tuning Required: None

The Injen kit is the only one in our roundup that has the filter exposed to under hood air. All of the other kits we installed either used a shield that sealed to the hood or a completely enclosed air box. The Injen intake kit does come with a shield, but it does not seal to the hood. The shield can be positioned to your liking, as the shield brackets are secured by the filter hose clamp, allowing the shield to rotate around the filter. Speaking of the filter, it is a high-flow unit using blue synthetic fiber and does not use/require oil of any kind. The Injen induction tube is made of aluminum and is highly polished (a black wrinkle finish is also available) and is the only one reviewed that uses a factory mounting point on the electric fan shroud to support the tube, making for a very solid installation. The tube's integral mass air sensor mount is designed to allow the intake kit to work with the stock computer tune.

JLT Performance Cold-Air Intake

HP/TQ Gain: 25-30/30-35
Tuning Required: Yes

The first thing we noticed when we pulled the JLT hardware out of the box was the positively huge inlet. The induction tube is 107mm at the mass air sensor opening (integral to the tube) and follows the OE induction tube's curvature to the throttle body where it is attached with a nice JLT branded silicone coupler and stainless clamps. The filter shield is made from ABS plastic to help insulate under hood heat and it seals to the hood while using the stock cold air snorkel fed from the grille. While many of the cold air kits in our guide use private labeled filters, JLT went right to the source and uses high-flow cotton gauze S&B air filters in their kits. The S&B filter does require oiling when being cleaned. The induction tube comes out of the box ready to reuse your emissions and sound tubes for a clean installation. Lastly, while we installed the standard black plastic roto-molded induction tube version here, JLT is the only kit in our round up that offers their induction tubes painted in factory Mustang colors for a cool matching look ($50 up charge). JLT even offers their induction tube in real carbon fiber too ($429) and as a package deal with a SCT tuner included.

Like some kits, the JLT induction kit offers the owner a choice of using the factory sound tube or not. However, JLT goes the extra step and provides not only a cap for their induction tube, but a plastic plug for the firewall so you can completely remove the sound tube from the engine bay for a clean look.

K&N Engineering AirCharger Intake Kit

PN 63-2578
HP/TQ Gain: 20/26 (tested with air box lid off)
Tuning Required: None

K&N is the grand-daddy of performance air filters and they've been making high-flow filters, induction tubes, EFI filter kits, and more since 1969! Many late-model Mustang owners remember the days of dropping a replacement K&N panel filter into their Fox Mustang while removing the intake silencer and bumping the timing for a nice power boost. Today K&N still offers direct replacement high-flow cleanable filters for just about every Ford ever built, but now offer their 63 Series AirCharger induction kits. The AirCharger features a roto-molded induction tube in black textured plastic that is routed to a sealed air box like the AEM unit shown earlier. The K&N air box features a very slick carbon fiber lid attached with stainless button head fasteners, however there's no way to check the filter's condition unless you remove the lid. K&N also ditches the sound tube so there's no fitting to attach it to the K&N kit, a bummer if you really like the sound tube feeding your passenger compartment its aural delight. Naturally the filter used in the kit is a K&N cotton gauze oiled filter. Lastly, a silicone hose replaces the stock emissions hose for connecting to the induction tube.

To inspect the filter condition in the K&N induction kit you'll need to remove six button head fasteners and the carbon fiber lid to see what your filter looks like. It's a small price to pay to have a completely sealed air tract from the factory snorkel to the throttle body.

Roush Performance Cold Air Intake

PN 420131
HP/TQ Gain: 8-11/7-11
Tuning Required: None

The name Roush is synonymous with latemodel Mustang performance and every Roush Mustang sold includes one of their cold air intake kits designed to work with the stock engine controls or the Roush programming on supercharged Roush Mustangs. The Roush kit gets the nod for the fewest parts as all you'll find in the box is the injection molded heat shield, the injection molded mass air sensor tube, the Roush air filter, and a pair of speed nuts with mounting bolts. The reason being, Roush reuses the stock Ford induction tube, including the emissions and sound tubes as well for a really simple installation. All you have to remove is the factory air box lid and base, bolt in the Roush shield (which seals to the factory cold air snorkel to the grille), bolt in the mass air sensor tube, and slip the air filter on. The shield seals to the hood to insulate the incoming air charge from under hood heat while the mass air sensor tube is designed to match the stock mass air meter signal so that no aftermarket tuning is required.

Steeda Autosports ProFlow Cold-Air Intake

PN 555-3155
HP/TQ Gain: 38/36
Tuning Required: Yes

Steeda's ProFlow cold air kit starts off with a large diameter molded induction tube in black with a fine grain finish. The mass air flow sensor housing is a high quality CNC machined billet aluminum part with a built in velocity stack where the filter attaches for a smooth airflow transition. The billet housing increases the mass air sensor tube inside diameter to 95mm. The Steeda high-flow filter uses synthetic filter media that is cleanable and requires oiling. Shielding the Steeda filter is a powder coated metal heat shield that uses a plastic bolt-on base to seal the assembly to the stock cold air snorkel while a rubber seal takes care of sealing the shield to the hood. Black hose couplers with high quality clamps finish out the package. The Steeda kit retains all factory hose connections and you can delete the sound tube, however Steeda only supplies the plug for the induction tube itself. Steeda is another manufacturer that offers a package deal with their cold air kit and a SCT hand-held tuner.

Don't get ahead of yourself in the installation like we did and install the stock mass air sensor into the CNC tube before the tube is passed through the filter shield. The CNC tube will not clear with the sensor installed.

While Steeda makes their heat shield out of metal, this nifty “scoop” bolts to the bottom of the shield to allow the sealed off filter area to get the coolest air possible by reusing the cold air snorkel. Matter of fact, the Steeda part doesn't just butt up to it, but slips inside the snorkel's rubber seal.

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Pushing Electrons

As you've read through our guide, you've seen some entries that state tuning is mandatory and their instruction manuals even state to not drive the car without the proper tune, as a lean condition can result. You've probably noticed that the cold air kits that require a supporting custom tune also show higher horsepower and torque ratings. That's due to the performance improvements further enhanced by the tuner itself with timing and fuel changes. Even the no tune needed kits will benefit with the adoption of an aftermarket performance tune, it's just that they don't have to have one to be installed. Generally you'll see a 10-15 hp improvement with a cold air kit, while the remainder comes from the aftermarket tuning.

One of the most popular tuning products is the SCT hand-held tuner, shown here. The majority of the cold air manufacturers have worked with SCT to devise custom tunes so that you can actually buy your cold air kit and SCT tuner as a package deal (even Ford Racing does this on their '05-'09 cold air kits). You can also order a SCT X3, which has no pre-loaded tunes, and then have a custom shop dyno your car and create a custom tune based on your Mustang's modifications. If you'd like to know more, be sure to check out for more info and your nearest dealer.