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Chevy LS2 Intake Upgrade Guide

Austin Parsons

Meet Austin

Austin holds a technical writing degree and has 5 years of experience working as a Technical Product Specialist at BMW. He is an avid car enthusiast who is constantly watching F1, consuming automotive content, racing on his simulator, and working on his Toyota’s and BMW’s. Austin’s technical writing skills, extensive automotive knowledge, and hands-on experience make him an excellent resource for our readers.

The Chevy LS engine series is one of the most famous groups of powerplants under the sun for multiple reasons. They are fiercely strong, powerful, predictable, and, most of all, endlessly modifiable. The LS2 is the most well-known engine in the Gen IV Chevy small block lineup and conforms to all of the traits that make LS engines so beloved.

Modifications are a cornerstone of LS ownership, which is good as there are so many modifications to choose from. Most LS owners start small and build up to more advanced mods, which is where LS2 intakes come into play. In this guide, we’ll cover everything that you need to know about intakes for the Chevy LS2 including how they work, their benefits, and some recommended products.

Upgraded Intake Basics

Before jumping into recommendations, let’s talk about some intake basics first. An air intake is an important element of any engine, as it is the first point of entry for air entering the engine’s intake system. As a result, it should be designed with the least restrictive intake tubing and components to limit internal turbulence, providing a smooth path into the throttle body. Additionally, the colder the air entering the intake the better, as cooler air has a higher concentration of oxygen than hotter air, meaning it will make more horsepower and torque.

While the factory LS2 air box isn’t the most restrictive system out there, there are multiple ways that aftermarket intakes improve the factory design. Most aftermarket intakes use a larger and less dense intake filter which allows a larger volume of air to flow through it. The design of most aftermarket intakes allows for air to flow more effortlessly to the throttle body, improving throttle response. While many aftermarket LS2 intakes aren’t truly cold air intakes, many do provide better heat-shielding properties, limiting the amount of heat that the air absorbs from the engine bay. 

The most effective LS2 intakes allow for air to enter the system from an air source outside of the engine bay. For instance, the Vararam SC1 Snake Charmer Intake features an entire internal aero assembly that brings in air from the front bottom grille, making it a true cold air intake. This type of intake, and intakes like it, produce the best performance results.

Cold Air Intake Benefits

  • Slight horsepower and torque gains
  • Improved throttle response
  • Increased airflow
  • +0.5-1.5 mpg
  • Increased engine noises
  • Improved engine bay look

If you are looking into purchasing a cold air intake for the performance benefits alone, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. In general, it isn’t realistic to expect any more than around 5 horsepower and a similar amount of torque from an LS2 CAI alone. It is important to mention that performance gains from an intake scale with other performance modifications, and you’ll likely see more performance gains from an intake when paired with other mods like a ported throttle body, upgraded intake manifold, a supercharger, a tune, or a combination of all of them.

While the power gains might not be noticeable, even from your butt dyno, improved throttle response is an upside that you’ll likely notice. The additional airflow afforded by an upgraded intake does allow for less restrictive flow through the throttle body which improves throttle response as a result.

Outside of the modest performance benefits, you can also expect marginally improved fuel economy. Most enthusiasts buy an upgraded intake for the cool sounds that it makes and the improved engine bay presence over the stock airbox. Couple that with the fact that CAIs are relatively inexpensive and it makes sense that they are a common starter modification. 

Top Chevy LS2 Cold Air Intakes

With the LS2 engine, and all of the vehicles that it powers, being so popular in the aftermarket community, there are endless air intakes to choose from. In some cases, it is pretty clear that manufacturers are just looking for some quick cash and aren’t really concerned with the quality or performance of their intake offerings. However, there are also some LS2 intakes that have built quite a reputation for themselves in the community, and those are the ones that we’ll be recommending below. 

1) Vararam SC1 Snake Charmer Intake

The Vararam Snake Charmer is without doubt the most popular intake available for the LS2 and the C6 Corvette in particular. While there are similar intakes for the Pontiac GTO and Cadillac CTS-V, this one is truly a favorite in Vette circles. It is celebrated because it truly functions as a cold air intake, drawing external air from outside the engine bay through the bottom grille.

The top portion of the assembly is roto-molded while the bottom is vacuum-formed to make sure that the entire unit has as seamless of an internal surface as possible to prevent any internal turbulence. According to Vararam, the intake tubing itself was designed not only to flow but to ram air into the throttle body, with the ram effect beginning right as you start moving. 

I’m going to be honest and say that there’s absolutely no way that the Snake Charmer will lead to the 40+ horsepower gains that Vararam advertises. Even with “dyno proof,” there simply isn’t a chance. However, it is widely said that despite not meeting the advertised power claims, it is the intake that yields the best performance benefits, even if it is only in the 10-15 horsepower ballpark. 

The only downside of the Snake Charmer is that earlier models had reportedly led to some hydrolocked engines when driven in heavy rain. Since the intake draws in air from near the bottom of the engine, water was able to enter the throttle body and cause engine damage on earlier iterations of the intake. They have since ironed out that issue, as the new versions now feature a water trough to siphon water away from the inlet.

It is also important to mention, that while the go-to, the Snake Charmer is also the least expensive option on this list.

2) SynthaMax AIRAID Intake

Trailing the Snake Charmer in a close second place is the SynthaMax AIRAID intake for the LS2. In principle, the AIRAID is very similar to the Snake Charmer in terms of its overall construction, but it doesn’t have the same kind of heat-resistant enclosure as the previous intake. It is likely that the AIRAID intake actually flows better than the Snake Charmer due to the fact that the intake tubing is a lot simpler and direct, which almost always equates to better airflow.


In addition to the simpler design, the AIRAID also uses a superior filter to the other intake. AIRAID uses non-oiled SynthaMax filters that are not only larger and cover a greater surface area but also have a radial design compared to the flat filter found in the Charmer. That means that the AIRAID can intake a greater volume of air in the same time period. 

The AIRAID intake’s most significant shortcoming is its absence of a heat shield that would prevent warm engine bay air from entering the intake system. While the shorter intake tract guarantees a greater volume of air intake, it warms the air, thereby slightly hampering combustion efficiency. Not to mention, the AIRAID LS2 intake costs notably more than the Vararam, despite using less overall material. Despite its shortcomings, users frequently speak positively about it on forums and give it fantastic reviews.

3) Halltech Killer Bee Cold Air Intake

The final intake that we’ll discuss is the Halltech Killer Bee intake. Before we get to the meat and potatoes, it’s important to mention that this intake is produced by Halltech with two Ls and not Haltech of plug-and-play ECU notoriety. Regardless, Halltech with two Ls is just as renowned for their contributions to the cold air intake space.

In many ways, the Halltech killer Bee splits the difference between the two intakes that we have already discussed. Like the Snake Charmer, the Killer Bee intake has superior IAT-reducing qualities that ensure that cold air reaches the rest of the intake system. The intake comes with a massive heat shroud that seals off the intake filter from the rest of the engine bay, reducing intake air temperatures substantially. However, like the AIRAID, the Killer Bee features a shorter intake tract which simplifies the pathway to the throttle body, eliminating internal turbulence. 


The Killer Bee actually goes a bit beyond the other intakes here though, which is a selling point for some people. Included in the Killer Bee kit is a MAF adapter that converts the factory Delphi 85 MAF to the superior LS6-style card MAF which provides more accurate readings and allows the LS2 to run much more smoothly and predictably than with the old MAF style. The adapter is plug-and-play with the Killer Bee intake, but requires a tune. In total, you can expect around 15-20 horsepower gains from the intake and adapter. 

That being said, the Killer Bee LS2 intake surpasses the Snake Charmer in cost, nearly doubling its price on this list. It’s up to you whether its benefits balance its cost.

LS2 Cold Air Intakes Are Worth It To Some and Not To Others

Cold air intakes aren’t for everyone. If you are looking for the best power per-dollar modifications for your LS2, you can likely skip over a cold air intake and save for something more beneficial like an upgraded cam and a tune. However, there are still some benefits to installing a cold air intake that might be worth it to some.

In most cases, a cold air intake will only yield between 5-15 horsepower and a similar amount of torque on LS2-powered Vettes, GTOs, and CTS-Vs. With that being said, they do have the potential to noticeably improve throttle response and make some cool noises while doing so. They also have the added benefit of sprucing up the engine bay a bit. While some specially designed intakes like the Vararam Snake Charmer and Halltech Killer Bee have some additional benefits up their sleeve, most intakes will perform pretty similarly.

Ultimately, you can purchase LS2 cold air intakes inexpensively and install them in less than an hour, making them a fun modification. For that reason, they are a very common starter mod. I’d argue that they actually make a better finishing touch modification, as their benefits scale with other performance modifications that benefit from additional airflow. Think about that before pulling the trigger on one first.

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