Who makes the best cold air intake system? Will one system consistently out-perform another? Well, it’s complicated, but one thing is for sure … they all beat the standard intake systems, so understanding what’s best for your vehicle is a must, especially if you’re looking to spend a few hundred dollars on a new system.
… the more important thing to understand is what the benefits will be, in other words, will it actually make a difference to you? Claims of large increases in horsepower are one thing, and may not necessarily be that accurate, and then of course we have ‘increased torque’, ‘sharper throttle response’ and the old favorite … improved noise.
To try and put some of these claims in to context, we need to understand the processes.
Table of Contents
- The Air Intake
- Cold Air Intakes
- The Best Cold Air Intake
- 1. K&N FIPK Performance Air Intake System
- 2. K&N 63 Series AirCharger High-Flow Intake Kit
- 3. AIRAID MXP Air Intake System
- 4. AEM Wrinkle Cold Air Intake System
- 5. K&N 71 Series Blackhawk Induction Air Intake System
- 6. Volant PowerCore Cool Air Intake
- 7. K&N 69 Series Typhoon Air Intake Kit
- 8. Spectre Performance Air Intake Kit
- 9. Injen Technology SP Series Air Intake System
The Air Intake
An internal combustion engine is a little like a big air compressor, or better still, an air pump – it sucks it from one place, sends it through the engine, adds a little explosion and pushes it out the exhaust system. An engine can only burn fuel & air together, and in a gasoline engine the ratio in which is does that is 14.7:1 … 14 parts air to one part fuel (although work rate & load can change that, but let’s keep it simple).
So you can see that an engine uses much more air than it does fuel. As a minimum requirement, that air needs to be clean from dirt, debris and grit – not only could this damage an engine, but it could also lower the quality of the charge, which of course lowers horsepower. Pretty simple right?
There are quite literally hundreds of different air filters available, from absolutely standard OE parts, through to cheaper aftermarket ‘pattern’ parts and heading up to ‘racing’ or performance air filters – designed to get more air through the engine, but still offer a good level of filtration … or we’d all be driving around with an open pipe just sucking in liters of air.
There is an argument that an engine can only burn what it can burn – in other words, if the standard OEM filter provides enough air, why would we need something that can deliver more air? Surely, that just means the engine is getting too much air? Which kinda makes sense. After all, your engine is working as the manufacturer intended, and making the horsepower for which it’s been rated … there simply isn’t a need for more air. And that’s true. ish.
Delivering more air means that, in theory, you can burn more fuel, which with all things being equal, will equate to more horsepower … but that only works if you can tell the car to burn more fuel. Most modern day cars are equipped with enough sensors and technology to adjust the fueling, so as not to run too lean (too much air), but the power difference would be negligible … maybe a few horsepower.
If someone tells you that they fit an XYZ racing filter and felt an instant improvement in horsepower, they were either starting with a problem, or they’re mistaken.
Cold Air Intakes
A much better way to help the horsepower figures along is to cool the charge entering the engine, this goes even more so when the engine uses forced induction (turbo or supercharger).
The techie bit is quite simple … cold air has more oxygen than warm air, so more oxygen means more efficient burning, which means … you guessed it … more horsepower. Adding a cold air intake system is one method of cooling the charge, you can also add a heat blocking spacer between the engine and inlet (to lessen heat soak), an air-to-air intercooler, even water jet cooling to an inlet tract, but that’s starting to get complicated.
Adding a cold air intake (CAI) is perhaps the easiest, and most cost-effective route to cooling the charge.
Essentially, you’re making the engine more efficient, so increases in power (both horsepower & torque) are possible, which could also help to give you gains in the economy … but that’s a double edged sword; a more efficient engine makes more power, so doesn’t have to work as hard to achieve the same rate of power (better fuel economy), BUT … use that extra power and you’ll use more fuel than before.
Typical gains in economy are around 1 -2 mpg, so not huge, but it’s all a help.
The Best Cold Air Intake
All of these systems are available for numerous different vehicles – what’s on test doesn’t necessarily mean that the kit isn’t available for your vehicle, so if there’s one that you’re interested in, check for vehicle fitment first.
1. K&N FIPK Performance Air Intake System
K&N have been around for a long time, always specializing with intakes and filtration, so they know a thing or two about what works, and more importantly, what doesn’t work. They say that this kit found an extra 11hp on their test vehicle, which isn’t a bad ratio of bang for buck.
It’s been specifically designed to aid throttle response and engine noise, thanks to reducing any intake obstruction from the original system – the K&N replaces everything right back to the mass air meter, and of course includes a heat shield to try and keep the filter area cooler, so it sucks in colder air than if it was placed under the hood.
In the kit you’ll find everything needed to fit, and of course the high flow air filter, heat shield and smooth flow tubing. K&N say that it should be possible to install in less than 90 minutes.
With service life set at 100,000 miles, you should think about cleaning (it’s cleanable and reusable) every 40,000 miles or so, dependent on driving conditions, personally speaking, I’d do it every year, just as matter of course.
Overall, the FIPK filter system offers a slight increase in horsepower and torque, and very small gains in economy – around 1 mpg, it’s sensibly priced and offers a good replacement setup over standard filters and boxes.
2. K&N 63 Series AirCharger High-Flow Intake Kit
A horsepower increase of 10.68hp when tested on the dyno. The legal disclaimer says that it’s not legal for use in California.
Aside from that, this is pretty much the same as the FIPK setup – 100k miles service interval, high flow filter, free flow high-density polyethylene tube that connects right back at the air mass meter, and a design to help free up restrictions, improve the engine noise and make the throttle response just that bit sharper.
Again, you’ll see a minor improvement in gas mileage, but nothing significant … don’t expect the savings to pay for the kit! The integrated heat shield is well made and well finished, and the filter height itself is around 7.5” … so it’s pretty large, but then that’s what is needed for these engines.
If it’s a cold air intake system you’re looking for, that fits Escalade, Silverado 1500, Suburban, Tahoe, Sierra, Yukon, Denali vehicles, K&N produce some of the best engineered systems.
3. AIRAID MXP Air Intake System
Airaid claim their test vehicle found an extra 13hp with this performance intake system fitted, which has been fully computer designed, engineered and dyno tested to guarantee results (although performance figures will vary – so they wouldn’t be guaranteeing the performance increase).
It completely replaces the standard air box, air filter and intake tubing that goes back to the air mass meter, and uses an air dam to block the heat under the hood from having too much affect on what goes in to the engine.
The filter itself is reusable and cleanable, and the whole system takes less than an hour to install, and is backed up with the Airaid ‘no hassle warranty’. If you’re not keen on taking the traditional K&N route, then the Airaid system looks to offer a similar quality, with similar results for improvement in torque & horsepower.
4. AEM Wrinkle Cold Air Intake System
Wrinkle red intake … you’ve got to give the extra credit for the name alone … no boring XYZ Series here. According to AEM, this cold air system has been designed to give ‘massive’ increases in torque and horsepower … they claim 36hp, but being honest, I can’t see it being that much … I’d half that figure if I was looking to buy it.
With that said, it looks like a well engineered CAI system, and the red finish on it definitely stands out from the rest of the manufacturers. It would look great on a vehicle that does a bit of showing, as well as going.
It uses a DRYFLOW synthetic air cleaner that’s guaranteed for the life of the vehicle (made in the USA), and offers a high level of air filtration, without restricting the air flow … the holy grail. With improvements in torque, horsepower and noise (although it’s not overly noisy), the AEM system looks to be a quality product. If they can back up their dyno figures with a dyno sheet, this intake system would be high on the list of any tuner or performance modder.
5. K&N 71 Series Blackhawk Induction Air Intake System
Perfect for the ‘murdered out’ look – this kit is all black … black filter, tubing, heat shield … every single part of it.
K&N say it will give around 17 extra ponies, sharper throttle response and just a little more induction noise, all the while giving you around a 2 mpg increase in gas mileage. It’s worth noting that the extra noise is only really apparent when you’re pushing on … at city speeds and regular driving, you won’t notice it so much, which could be a good or bad thing, depending on how you see it.
Same service interval as the other K&N products – 100,000 miles, takes about 90 minutes to install correctly and includes everything you need to go all the way back to the air meter.
6. Volant PowerCore Cool Air Intake
This is slightly different from all of the other products listed here, in that the it comes with an enclosed air box, rather than just a heat shield to separate it. It meets all of the OEM filter standards and comes with a maintenance free PowerCore filter.
Volant don’t make any claims for horsepower increases, which I think is a good thing, but do say that it sharpens up the throttle pedal a lot and is pretty quiet, unless you’re ‘making progress’ along the highway.
Efficiency wise, you’ll see around an extra 1 mpg for the gas, which isn’t mind blowing, it’s about what you’d expect from any of the other cold air kits listed. All in, it delivers a neat and tidy solution to the whole cold air intake thing, and the closed intake box looks different enough from standard, without trying to look all racey.
This has to be the one to start with if you’re looking for something a bit more understated.
7. K&N 69 Series Typhoon Air Intake Kit
It’s a K&N … the regular information applies … 100k mileage service life, well engineered, at the higher end of the budget, offers around 9hp, improved throttle response and better noise. That it?
In the kit, you’ll find everything you need to complete the installation, including the reusable filter, heat shielding and smooth bore tubing that connects at the engine end. The Typhoon kit should increase gas mileage by around 2 mpg.
8. Spectre Performance Air Intake Kit
This is the lowest priced kit on the list, and for the main part, you wouldn’t really tell, unless you’re a bit of an engineering nerd (like me) … the polished aluminum tubing looks great, but the welds aren’t exactly … beautiful.
For the rest of it, it’s good quality stuff … a red Spectre air filter, powder coated heat shield, polished aluminum tubing and all the hardware needed for fitting. The filter is reusable and cleanable, offers excellent filtration with no loss of intake capacity, and because of that, Spectre say that it will give you an increase in power, both in terms of torque and horsepower.
While it does make a better noise than standard, it isn’t intrusive and you won’t really notice it until the tacho needle starts finding the higher rev range. So if induction noise is important to you, you’re better off with one of the other kits.
I’d be happy with this kit for the price … yeah, something like the K&N may be slightly better engineered, but in terms of performance, this is cheap ponies for dollars.
9. Injen Technology SP Series Air Intake System
Injen Technology isn’t a company that I’ve heard of before, but hey, what do I know?
This is the only system here that uses two connected filters rather than a single cone filter, and Injen say that it’s been designed with the patented MR Technology processes, which offer the largest gains for horsepower and torque, while still offering a safe level of AFR (Air to Fuel Ratio). With that said, they don’t claim any figures, which I see as possibly a good thing – I’m always skeptical of companies that claim an XX increase.
The tubing is made from aerospace aluminum, and the filter features AMSOIL Ea nanofiber qualities (whatever they may be). Everything you need to install is in the kit, and it all looks straight forward, despite being a twin-filter setup.
Overall, this looks to be a quality arrangement, with quality filters and well manufactured tubing, and a further plus is that it looks completely different to all the other kits here … I’d be tempted with this one.