BMW N54 Tuning: Dual Cone Intakes – A Full Guide

When you mention dual cone intakes or cold air intakes, you tend to get a lot of people that will criticize you by saying things like "all your doing is decreasing the longevity of your engine", "its a pointless mod, it barely offers any horsepower gains", "your engine is going to take in so much more dirt and particles" and blah blah blah. More than likely these comments are coming from someone who drives a naturally aspirated car and has no idea what he is talking about. For a naturally aspirated car, it is true that an upgraded intake doesn't offer a lot of performance benefit, but for a turbocharged engine, such as the twin-turbocharged N54 engine, an intake upgrade is one of the most important modifications and offers lucrative horsepower and torque gains.

This guide will cover the difference between dual cone intakes and cold air intakes (yes, they are different and both of them are available for the N54), it will provide you with a list of all the popular dual cone intakes in the N54 universe, and include the pro's and con's of each one. I will not cover cold air intakes on this guide as there are only two options (Stett and Ultimate-Racing) and they are not as popular as dual cone intakes amongst N54 tuners. If I eventually make a cold air intake guide, I will include the link here.

If you already know about dual cone intakes and just want to skip to the specific DCI reviews, skip a little bit further down.

Dual Cone Intakes vs. Cold Air Intakes

In the naturally aspirated community you will typically hear the term Cold Air Intake (CAI). In the N54 community, you will commonly hear about Dual Cone Intakes or (DCI's). These are both intake systems, but are completely different in terms of how they collect air for your engine. A cold air intake is designed to grab the coldest possible air for the engine (as colder air results in more power), and does so by placing the intake filters towards the bottom of the engine bay. Air at the top of the engine bay is always hotter than air at the bottom (1) because hot air rises, and (2) because it is closer to the engine which generates all the heat.

First off, the stock air intake on the N54 is an enclosed box. The air passes through the engine bay through the front grills, into the air box where the filter is located, and then dispersed to the two turbocharger inlets, supplying air to both of the turbos. The box is restrictive in the amount of air that it can feed to the turbo's - which is why most people elect to upgrade to a performance intake. Cold Air Intakes will commonly route the intake filters to the bottom of the front bumper, in the corner close to the front fender and wheel hub. Dual Cone Intakes on the N54 will keep the intake filters in the same area that the stock air box was, but removes the box, allowing the filters to be exposed to more air. Additionally, they are called dual-cone because the intake features two filters, one for each of the turbos. The filters are attached directly to the turbo inlets.

Cold air intakes are commonly knocked because of their placement in the engine bay. They are located in the bottom near the front bumper, which causes a handful of problems. First off: puddles - the intake location makes it easy for the intake to suck in water if the car splashes a big puddle. The filter is also more likely to pick up particles and dust stirred up from the road. Dual cone intakes remove this issue, but create another debate: hot air.

The Hot Air Debate with DCI's

Alright, a common complaint or debate regarding dual cone intakes is the hot air debate. Because the intakes are no longer housed in a box, and are directly next to the engine, people like to claim that they are bad because all they do is suck in extremely hot air. This myth has been debunked. The guys over at Burger Motorsports put their dual cone intake to the test versus the stock air box and determined that the DCI didn't produce any higher air intake temperatures at idle or at wide open throttle. You can see the results here: http://www.n54tech.com/forums/showthread.php?t=23993

Benefits of Dual Cone Intakes

I know we want to get to the DCI options, so here is a brief section on the pro's/benefits of dual cone intakes:

  • Awesome aggressive engine sound
  • Better fuel economy (slightly)
  • Improved throttle response
  • Increased air flow, especially in the mid-upper ranges
  • 15-25whp gains and  20+tq!!

The Best Dual Cone Intakes for your N54 BMW

Here is a list of five different DCI options for your N54 engine, in no specific order (although Zach and I do both run BMS dual cone intakes).

1) Burger Motorsports (BMS) N54 Dual Cone Intakes

The Burger Motorsports Dual Cone Intakes are possibly the most used and praised intakes on the N54 market. As mentioned above, the minimalist intake which only features the two air filters that connect to the turbo inlets do not increase intake air temperatures. This intake systems adds a phenomenal sound to the engine, and a noticeable performance boost via roughly 15whp and 8tq. Zach and I both run the BMS DCI's, and these were the first modifications we made to our cars as the increased air flow is essential for further tuning and modifying.

Price: $99 + $15 Shipping

Horsepower Gains: 15whp bone stock, up to 23whp when running the JB4 tuner

Torque Gains: 8tq to the wheels bone stock, up to 20tq with the JB4 tuner

Price per Horsepower: $7.13/hp

Buy Here: N54 BMS Dual Cone Intakes (DCI)

2) VRSF N54 Dual Cone Intakes

N54 VRSF Dual Cone IntakePin

I almost grouped the VRSF DCI's above with the BMS ones, because they are simply the same setup. They feature the same basic two cone setup, and offer the same benefits, they are just branded differently. To mimic what was said above, these intakes add an awesome and aggressive tone to the engine, and offer the best bang for you buck in terms of price per horsepower. Whether you go with the BMS or VRSF intakes is a matter more so of who you would prefer to give your business to as they are the same. VRSF says "up to 20hp at the wheels" but I can't find any specific dyno charts that show the gains, so I am going to assume the same numbers as BMS because the systems are the same.

Price: $79 + $15 Shipping

Horsepower Gains: 15whp bone stock, up to 23whp when running the JB4 tuner

Torque Gains: 8tq to the wheels bone stock, up to 20tq with the JB4 tuner

Price per Horsepower: $7.13/hp

Buy them here: VRSF Intake

3) Masata Dual Cone Intakes - UK/International

Up next is the Masata dual cone intakes. This is another high-quality, excellent option that's very similar in design to the VRSF and BMS options. One major difference is that Masata is based in the UK. As such, this is an excellent option for international shoppers looking for top of the line N54 DCI kits.

They're a viable option for US customers, too. The shipping does make them a bit more expensive so the previous two options are likely the better bet. Nonetheless, Masata is a great option that will deliver performance and sounds similar to the BMS and VRSF intakes.

We also really like the black design of the Masata intake upgrade. It might not look as flashy as the red or blue filters. However, in our experience, the colored filters really lose their appeal as they age and start getting dirty. Cleaning the filters makes the color fade over time, too. Point is - the black filters are sure to hide dirt and debris better and look clean for years to come.

Price: $140.05 (Free UK shipping, $40-50 US shipping)

Horsepower Gains: 15whp bone stock, up to 23whp when running a tune

Torque Gains: 8tq to the wheels bone stock, up to 20tq with a tune

Buy Here: Masata N54 Dual Cone Intake Upgrade

4) aFe N54 Dual Cone Intake System

aFe N54 Intake SystemPin

The aFe N54 intake system places the dual filters in similar spots to the BMS and VRSF, but this system features a heat shield, which is somewhat like the stock air box without the top cover on it. The heat shield is designed to block the hot engine air from reaching the intakes, so that the intakes only take in the colder air from outside of the car. This heat box makes the aFe system a higher cost, but looking at the dyno results, it might be worth it. aFe claims 27whp and 34tq gains at the wheels! As a side note, these dyno numbers were achieved using a "Mustang" dyno, which is often criticized for embellishing numbers.

Price: $357 with Amazon Prime

Horsepower Gains: 27whp - I am not sure what other mods were on the car that achieved these numbers

Torque Gains: 34tq to the wheels - also not sure about other mods

Price per Horsepower: $14.63/hp

You can get them from Amazon Prime here.

5) Dinan N54 Carbon Fiber Intake System

Dinan N54 Intake SystemPin

People love the pure sexiness of Dinan intake system as it is made of real carbon fiber. If you are versed in the carbon fiber game, you know this means big $$$. But as for an intake system, this isn't a "dual cone intake" but I thought it deserved a spot and honorable mention in this post because it is a great system, for certain people. The system design is quite similar to the OEM air box, which is advantageous if you believe that the stock system is superior to the cost effective dual cone intake options. The N54 Dinan intake is more so similar to a cold air intake, because it routes the air inlet to the front bumper of the vehicle (view the 1addicts link below to see) rather than through the grills. Dinan claims this results in air intake temperatures being 40F degrees cooler than the stock system, and the other dual cone intake systems.

This air box does generate a better sound than the stock box, but it is not as aggressive or noticeable as a true dual cone system, because the air is contained within the carbon fiber box. Additionally, this product is less restrictive than stock, but more restrictive than the aforementioned intakes, resulting in less impressive performance benefits. Bone stock, Dinan claims 5whp and 5tq gains, but up to 14whp and 16tq if you are running full-Stage 3 Dinan.

Price: ~$1,400+ Free Shipping

Horsepower Gains: 5whp stock, 14whp if you are Dinan Stage 3

Torque Gains: 6tq to the wheels, 16tq if you are Dinan Stage 3

Price per Horsepower: $267.60/hp bone stock, $95.57/hp if you are Stage 3

The cheapest place I could find it is on eBay: Dinan Carbon Fibre Intake System N54

A great write-up on the Dinan system if you are considering purchasing it: http://www.1addicts.com/forums/showthread.php?t=384284

The Bottom Line on N54 Intakes

When it comes to which intake is right for you - its hard to say. But in my opinion, BMS and VRSF offer the best 'bang for your buck' intake system in regards to the cost per horsepower. Zach and I run this setup simply because it is cost effective, and the least restrictive system which results in the greatest horsepower gains, especially when you get to adding additional performance modifications to your N54 engine. The aFe and Injen systems are great systems - many people throughout the community run them - but I personally do not believe that the minimal benefit in slightly lower air intake temps is worth the extra ~$250 you have to fork out for one of the systems. You might disagree - to each their own - which is why I included a list of all the most popular systems throughout the N54 tuning community.

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6 thoughts shared

    1. Hi Ethan,

      Not familiar with the SSR N54 dual cone intakes. However, many N54 intakes are very similar. A lot use the same or similar S&B cone filters and the other hardware is pretty basic.

      Best Regards,
      BMW Tuning

  1. I prefer my Stett Performance CAI to all of these options and it’s gorgeous as they will custom powder coat the piping any colour at no additional cost if you email them directly ????????

    1. Thanks for the suggestion Jon – I’m not super familiar with their products but will certainly look into it given there aren’t many true cold air intakes for the N54.

  2. Just a heads up, but the filters AFE uses are junk. I have gone through 2 filters in less than a year because the rubber rips under the clamps and the filters fall off. AFE claims the clamps are too tight. Try not tightening them so much & the filter fall off from regular use. Also, you can not get replacement filter from anyone else. They are the ONLY one that makes this size filter.

  3. Newbie here just chiming in to say this is a great goto article, blog, and deeply appreciated! Nice honest review and links appreciated. (2007 335i Sedan)