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Best Cold-Air Intakes to Add More Pep

Forget a basic filter, it’s time to get serious about horsepower.

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BY/ LAST UPDATED ON May 16, 2022

When it comes to car performance, there are a few different options to get some extra horsepower and torque out of your engine. One of those options that is both easy to install and not too hard on the wallet is a cold air intake. Check out our picks for the best cold air intake filters to help you get the most out of your ride.


As speed junkies know, a proper cold-air intake can inject any car with a strong dose of power. Who doesn’t want a few more ponies for a few hundred bucks? But the market is heavily saturated with intakes of all sorts. Some variants may not even be legal where you live, and other intakes may ask for more than just a single mouse click before slapping it on and calling it a day. I’m going to take some hassle out of your hunt for that perfect part.
Enter The Drive’s list of the dandiest cold-air intakes on the market today. From road racers to off-roaders to casual Sunday cruisers, I’ve got an intake for you. Personal knowledge and real-life experience blended with extensive research was used to curate this guide, so scroll on through and happy shopping.

Best Overall

Airaid MXP Series

Summary
If you have a smidge more coin to throw down, the MXP Series is an effective, configurable, and impressively built kit.
Pros
  • Gargantuan intake piping
  • Snug, OEM-tight fitment
  • Highly configurable
  • Can function off OEM tunes in most applications
Cons
  • Pricey
  • Some are not CARB legal
Best Value

JLT Performance Air Intake

Summary
JLT’s intake offerings are for true, bang-for-your-buck evangelists, perfect for those looking to buy their first intake.
Pros
  • Agreeable price point
  • Clean, function-over-form look
  • Commendable quality for the price
  • Designed to work with OEM tune
Cons
  • Narrow vehicle application
  • Oiled filter adds an extra step to cleaning process
  • Won’t spice up your engine bay
Honorable Mention

K&N 57 Series

Summary
The K&N 57 is a configurable, effective, and long-lasting product guaranteed to improve engine dynamics without fussing at a California smog station.
Pros
  • Claimed 100,000-mile filter life before cleaning
  • Generous warranty
  • Less expensive models available
  • K&N’s CARB-legal golden ticket
Cons
  • Marketed for American vehicles
  • Fluctuating price
Best Cold-Air Intakes to Add More Pep

Our Methodology

I’ve personally curated this list from my own experience with aftermarket intakes plus information compiled from listings on sites such as CARiD and Amazon. Additional product information was also gathered from manufacturer websites. Products that were a part of an extensive model range applicable to many vehicles were preferred unless an especially focused category demanded otherwise. For more information on how The Drive typically produces guides and product reviews, click this link.

Why Trust Us

Our reviews are driven by a combination of hands-on testing, expert input, “wisdom of the crowd” assessments from actual buyers, and our own expertise. We always aim to offer genuine, accurate guides to help you find the best picks.

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Best Cold Air Intakes Reviews & Recommendations

Specs

  • Filter Type: dry synthetic, oiled cotton/synthetic
  • Tune Required: optional
  • Material: polyethylene, carbon fiber

Pros

  • Gargantuan intake piping
  • Snug, OEM-tight fitment
  • Highly configurable
  • Can function off OEM tunes

Cons

  • Expensive
  • Some not CARB legal

An acclaimed product from an industry giant, Airaid’s MXP Series intakes are brilliant choices. I should know since I have one installed on my car. The MXP fits perfectly snug in the engine bay with a sturdiness that matches OEM efforts while still delivering meaningful performance. Nearly all MXPs can function off the factory tune with minute gains, but tunes make the most out of this intake and its gaping maw of a pipe. When purchasing, buyers may choose between Airaid’s SynthaMax synthetic dry filters or SynthaFlow oiled cotton/synthetic-blend filters. Piping can be had in carbon depending on the available stock, and airboxes can be open or enclosed.

A couple gut punches are included in a product of this quality, of course. The price is admittedly a bit higher than other quality rivals. The disparity can grow to a hundred-dollar gap depending on the exact car and intake. Additionally, while most MXPs are CARB legal with an EO number sticker to match, a few models for certain performance cars that already bump against the legal limits are not.

Specs

  • Filter Type: oiled cotton
  • Tune Required: optional
  • Material: ABS plastic

Pros

  • Agreeable price
  • Clean look
  • Commendable quality
  • Works effortlessly with OEM tune

Cons

  • Narrow vehicle application
  • Oiled filter adds extra step to cleaning process
  • Won’t spice up your engine bay

The JLT Performance Air Intake puts up a convincing impression of higher-tier, big-name products at a more affordable price — and CARB legal too. Its intake designs are smooth, straight shots into the engine, and your single filter choice is an oiled off-the-shelf product borrowed from S&B Filters. The party trick and main marketing headline behind this product is the insistence that it works flawlessly with factory tunes, which does make sense. It’s a simple, relatively inexpensive intake serving as a starting piece for budget-minded enthusiasts that can then be enhanced by custom tunes later down the road, and it seems to work quite well. Most consumers report meaningful but small boosts in grunt, and the prominent intake roar draws frequent compliments.

This truly is a starter intake kit, so there won’t be much flash if you’re hunting for extra style points under the hood. I hope you like red filters and flat black because that’s the only configuration this comes in. JLT being an in-house brand of American Muscle, you’re mainly restricted to muscle cars and some light-duty trucks.

Specs

  • Filter Type: oiled cotton
  • Tune Required: optional
  • Material: polyethylene

Pros

  • 100,000-mile filter life before cleaning
  • Generous warranty
  • Models with drop-in filters available
  • CARB legal

Cons

  • Marketed towards American vehicles
  • Fluctuating price

Ah, the Speed Channel Special. K&N’s 57 Series, found in the ad section of nearly every auto magazine in existence, is everywhere for one reason: It just works. Solid construction with a polyethylene pipe ensures a sturdy, reliable fit, and K&N claims their oiled filters can go as far as 100,000 miles before needing to be cleaned and re-oiled. Skeptical? Yeah, me too, but there’s no doubt the whole product is an effective choice with which consumers have experienced actual performance gains and pleasant induction noise. Unlike K&N’s 63 or 77 Series kits, the 57 is designed to be CARB legal across all models cementing its place as a no-brainer for buyers in states with tighter emissions laws.

There are many variants of the 57 Series, however, resulting in pricing that’s either competitive with cheaper rivals or hundreds of dollars more. For those on tighter budgets, kits using drop-in filters for the factory airbox exist. As K&N is marketed primarily at U.S.-made cars, finding a kit to fit foreign brands can be trickier. Still, a deeper search will land you amongst their catalogs for other popular makes including BMW and Honda.

Best for Off-Road Vehicles
ARB Safari Snorkel
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Specs

  • Filter Type: reuses OEM filter, optional pre-filters
  • Tune Required: optional
  • Material: polyethylene, stainless steel mounting hardware

Pros

  • Keeps intake air away from water and dust
  • Many vehicle applications
  • Reported bumps in mileage

Cons

  • Debated performance benefits
  • A bit pricey
  • More complicated to install

ARB’s Safari Snorkel is an excellent, ingenious intake kit for serious off-roaders looking to protect their engine while maintaining performance in hardcore conditions. Perhaps it’s debatable if it counts as a true cold-air intake, but it deserves a highlight for being a quality, solidly built product. The combination of stainless steel and polyethylene creates a robust system for off-road rigs, and some models can accept prefilters. The actual intake is almost at the roofline to avoid dust and is angled slightly downward to keep out snow and rain. It’s advertised as being able to draw cold, clean air to maintain vehicle performance and is compatible with upgraded tunes and forced induction kits should an owner desire them. One 4Runner owner even reported economy gains of more than a mile per gallon when highway cruising.

While its benefits off the beaten path are evident, there’s no beating the simplicity and performance of a traditional cold-air intake. Being a snorkel, it’s also far more complicated to install and one of the more expensive options. This is undoubtedly an item for the dedicated adventurers but one they’ll be grateful exists.

Specs

  • Filter Type: dry synthetic, oiled cotton
  • Tune Required: optional
  • Material: carbon fiber

Pros

  • Immaculate carbon finish
  • Broad application
  • Healthy power bump even without a tune

Cons

  • Nose-bleed pricing

The Afe Track Series is a serious bit of kit for drivers looking for more performance and more flash. Like other high-end rivals, it’s a configurable kit available for a wide range of vehicles and sold with either a Pro DRY S dry filter or Pro 5R oiled filter. Beautifully finished carbon-fiber piping is not only strong and light but a great material to resist heat soaking the intake air. That makes it a superb option for track rats or drivers with cars known for running a little toasty under the hood. One Dodge Challenger SRT 392 owner lauded its resistance to heat and said their previous intakes began to melt.

It seems too good to be true, a baller showpiece with actual function and performance benefits. For some, it probably is. Carbon fiber is expensive, and this intake reflects that with the highest price on this list by a couple hundred dollars. If you truly want the benefits or the look of carbon, then by all means get this one, but it’s nowhere near what anyone would call a bargain.

Specs

  • Filter Type: oiled cotton
  • Tune Required: yes
  • Material: powder-coated aluminum, silicone, composite

Pros

  • Made for almost any car
  • Tailored for each car
  • Almost always CARB legal

Cons

  • Only works with a tune
  • Wildly varying prices

The Cobb Intake System is a broad, all-encompassing family of filters and ducting dedicated to helping compact cars go wicked fast. Born from one of the largest names in the business, these intakes come in a dizzying variety to fit anything from Focus ST hot hatches to Volkswagen Golfs and even ye olde Mazda Speed3. You can find a well-built, snug-fitting Cobb intake for any modern sport compact. You’re essentially guaranteed performance gains as it’s heavily implied that you should pair your car’s new windpipe with a tune, something Cobb will also happily sell you. Thankfully, that performance will still come with a CARB EO number to cement your 50-states-legal superiority over friends struggling to pass smog.

Forcing you to work with a tune, either off the shelf or a custom one of your choosing will jack up the already varying price. There are cheaper intakes on the market, but I doubt they’ll be as attuned to your car as a Cobb unit.

Our Verdict

The MXP Series earns top marks for superb quality and performance at a reasonable price. The JLT Performance Air Intake family is a great value because it delivers similar quality and performance in a more straightforward design for hundreds less. 

What to Consider When Buying Cold-Air Intakes

There are different filters to choose from and different materials that each have a say in how your intake performs. Intakes may be as simple as a filter and pipe, but they can go a wee bit deeper than that, so I have some helpful technical tidbits about what to consider in a cold-air intake.

Key Features

Air Filter

This is that wrinkly, paper-like element that sits neatly on the orifice through which the car breathes. They mostly share the same designs across all intakes with subtle differences in material and the big choice coming down to wanting dry or oiled filters. Dry filters are easier to clean. Simply wash out the accumulated grime, let it air dry, and you’re back in business. 

Oiled filters need to be re-oiled afterward to maintain their filtration as the oil creates a tacky surface that’s primarily responsible for catching contaminants. This generally allows for a slightly better-flowing element to be used. Emphasis on slightly. Dry filters can reportedly filter out up to 99 percent of contaminants versus 98 percent for oiled filters.

Piping/Airbox Material 

It doesn’t seem like it matters too much, but to discerning enthusiasts with heavily modified projects and track-built weapons, the differences in materials can be huge. Almost every intake on the market will be plastic, but others can be metal or more exotic materials such as carbon fiber. Each has unique traits that affect performance and the way an intake is shaped and constructed. 

Metal intakes make the caveman within all of us gawk at their luster, but they can absorb slightly more heat, and potentially heat soak the air, defeating the purpose of a cold-air intake. The temperature change is admittedly small in some cars, but vehicles with poor heat management may feel the burden. Plastic and carbon don’t absorb heat so easily and can be molded into unique shapes to better channel air or better fit complicated applications.

Tune Compatibility 

Tunes refer to the programming of the engine control unit (ECU) and how it mixes air and fuel for that perfect blend of power and efficiency. I’ve learned there’s actually a lot of intakes capable of pairing with factory tunes throughout my research. Their gains can be as little as five horsepower to as high as 20, which serves these kits well as starter bolt-ons. A thorough ECU tune, however, can multiply those numbers. 

Intakes without tunes struggle to make big power as the ECU can’t fully compensate for the denser, cooler air being introduced to the fuel mix. Some intakes even require a tune to function properly. An updated tune will help dial in that correct air-to-fuel ratio to maximize the benefits. Listings will almost always disclose if an intake can pair with the factory tune or requires a new one.

Pricing 

Cold-air intakes will generally ask you to cough up a few hundred dollars depending on the exact model and car. Some dirt-cheap intakes may sell for $200, but most items on this list will hover between $300 to $500. Exotic intakes such as the Afe Track Series will bleed you of $700 to $900. 

FAQs 

You’ve got questions. The Drive has answers.

Q: Can I pass emissions testing with an intake?

A: Mostly yes, but check the legality for your local region. Most states have no quarrel with you slapping on these basic bolt-ons, but some states may require that the intake is CARB compliant with an EO number. Those states include more than just California.

Q: Can I run an intake without a tune?

A: Some milder flavors of intakes will pair just fine with the factory tune, and you may see gains ranging between 5 to 15 horsepower. But the best will require a tune for maximum gains of 20 to nearly 40 horsepower depending on the intake, engine, and tune.

Q: Do intakes improve fuel economy?

A: It’s complicated. As that added power makes cruising a tad more effortless for your engine, you may see slightly improved gas mileage so long as you stay out of the powerband. Once you start tapping into that extra power, you will burn more fuel to match the demand for more oomph.

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