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. Then, of course, we have ‘increased torque’, ‘sharper throttle response’ and the old favorite, improved noise.
To try and put some of these claims into context, we need to understand the processes.
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. In a gasoline engine, the ratio in which it does that is 14.7:1. That is 14 parts air to one part fuel (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. And that, of course, lowers horsepower. Pretty simple right?
There are quite literally hundreds of different air filters available. From absolutely standard OE parts to cheaper aftermarket ‘pattern’ parts to ‘racing’ or performance air filters. They’re designed to get more air through the engine, but still offer a good level of filtration. If not, 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 kind of makes sense.
After all, your engine is working as the manufacturer intended. It’s making the horsepower for which it’s been rated. There simply isn’t a need for more air.
Delivering more air means that, in theory, you can burn more fuel. With all things being equal, it will equate to more horsepower. However, 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. This is done so that it doesn’t 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. 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. And this means 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.)
You can also add an air-to-air intercooler or even water jet cooling to an inlet tract. But, that starts to get a little 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. It 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, it doesn’t have to work as hard to achieve the same rate of power (better fuel economy.) But, if you use that extra power, 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 the 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 to see if it will fit on your vehicle first.
K&N has been around for a long time, always specializing in 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 the buck.
It’s been specifically designed to aid throttle response and engine noise due 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 says 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. This is 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 the economy – around 1 mpg, it’s sensibly priced and offers a good replacement setup over standard filters and boxes.
- Rating: 4.4 / 5
- Brand: K&N
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. It is designed 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. 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.
Airaid claims their test vehicle found an extra 13hp with this performance intake system fitted. It has been fully computer designed, engineered, and dyno-tested to guarantee results. (Performance figures will vary, so they are not guaranteeing the performance increase.)
It completely replaces the standard airbox, air filter, and intake tubing that goes back to the air mass meter. It also uses an air dam to block the heat under the hood from having too much effect on what goes into the engine.
The filter itself is reusable and cleanable. The whole system takes less than an hour to install. It’s 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.
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 I can’t see it being that much. I’d guess about half that figure.
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 show, as well as going.
It uses a DRYFLOW synthetic air cleaner that’s guaranteed for the life of the vehicle (made in the USA). It offers a high level of air filtration, without restricting the airflow – the holy grail.
With improvements in torque, horsepower, and noise (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.
- Rating: 4.6 / 5
- Brand: K&N
Perfect for the ‘murdered out’ look – this kit is all black. It’s got a black filter, tubing, and heat shield – every single part of it.
K&N says it will give around 17 extra ponies. It’ll give you a 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. This 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. It takes about 90 minutes to install correctly and includes everything you need to go all the way back to the air meter.
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 says 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. A further plus is that it looks completely different than all the other kits here.
This is slightly different from all of the other products listed here, in that it comes with an enclosed airbox, 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 doesn’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.
It’s a K&N with 100k mileage service life. It’s well-engineered, at the higher end of the budget, offers around 9hp, improved throttle response, and better noise.
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.
This is the lowest priced kit on the list. For the most part, you wouldn’t really be able to tell, unless you’re a bit of an engineering nerd. 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 says 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. Something like the K&N may be slightly better engineered, but in terms of performance, this is cheap ponies for dollars.