5.0 Coyote Performance Mods
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Ford Mustang GT 5.0 Coyote Bolt-On Performance Mods

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Zach is a founder of 8020 Media and TuningPro. He’s been repairing, upgrading, tuning, and writing about cars & engines for over a decade. Zach has written over 400 automotive articles and continues to be a lead writer for TuningPro. His passion, experience, and deep technical knowledge make him a go-to resource for readers looking to take their car to the next level.

The Ford Mustang GT’s 5.0 Coyote has earned a reputation for being a strong factory motor and responding well to basic bolt-on mods. In this guide, we’ll discuss a few of the common power mods for the 5.0 Coyote, including tuning, cold air intakes, headers, and exhaust upgrades.

These mods alone have the ability to push the 5.0 engine into the 500RWHP ballpark without the addition of forced induction. Read on to learn how to take your Mustang GT to the next level with these basic bolt-on performance parts.

5.0 Coyote Performance Mods

Mustang GT Coyote 5.0 Bolt-On Mods

  • Tune (& E85)
  • Cold Air Intake
  • Long tube headers
  • Exhaust

If you would rather consume this content via a video, check out our Best Ford Mustang GT 5.0 Coyote Performance Mods video below:

1) ECU Tuning

Tunes are often at the forefront of discussion when it comes to unlocking additional horsepower. The 5.0 Coyote engine is no exception. Tunes do offer horsepower gains by themselves. However, as importantly, tunes also allow you to unleash the full potential of other bolt-on mods.

There are many different ways to go about tuning dependent upon mods and your specific goals for your Mustang GT 5.0. We’ll cover some of the basics below and reference a few of the popular 5.0 Coyote tuning options.

Tuning Devices

First order of business is purchasing a device, such as the SCT X4, that actually enables you to load tunes to the Mustang GT’s ECU/PCM. The SCT X4 and nGauge performance programmers are both common options. These tuning devices allow you to actually connect to the OBDII port to load flash tunes to the computer. They also offer additional features such as data logging, displays, user adjustable parameters, etc.

Depending upon the tuning device you choose it may or may not come with a pre-loaded tune. These are often referred to as canned or off-the-shelf (OTS) tunes. Expect to shell out roughly $300-500 for a solid tuning device and the base maps will likely offer gains of 5-15 horsepower.

OTS tunes are a good starting points for basic bolt-ons and those unfamiliar with the intricacies of tuning. However, since they’re base tunes they often don’t have the precision of true custom tunes. They also typically cannot support mods such as E85 fueling, fuel injector upgrades, manifold upgrades, or forced induction on the 5.0 Coyote. This is where custom tuning for the 5.0 Coyote comes into play.

Tuning Device Cost: $300-500

OTS HP Gains: 5-15hp

Custom Tuning

Those looking to take their Mustang GT 5.0 to the next level should consider custom tuning options. To clarify, you will still need a separate tuning device to actually load custom flash tunes. These tunes are dialed in to your car specifically rather than base maps built for use on a wide variety of GT’s. Even with a tune only 5.0 Coyote this precision allows for extra power. Expect power gains in the ballpark of 10-20hp.

However, a custom tune will likely run you an extra $300 on top of the tuning device. Lund Racing offers a custom tune alongside the nGauge tuning device for $629. Though, the minor gains may not be worthwhile for those wanting a tune only and no other modifications.

The real benefits of custom tuning begin for those looking to truly take their Mustang GT to the next level. We’ll touch more on E85 below but the Coyote 5.0 shows impressive gains with an E85 tune alone. Those with pre-2018 gen 1 and gen 2 Coyote engines may look to upgrade their intake manifolds. Additionally, some will look to add even more power with forced induction. A custom tune for the 5.0 Coyote is needed in conjunction with those mods. Even if you’re not looking to go too crazy there are still many benefits to custom tuning. Notably, custom tunes will unleash the full potential of the other basic bolt-ons like intakes, headers, exhaust, etc.

Custom Tune Cost: $300+

Custom Tune HP Gains: 10-20hp (pump gas, tune only)

Bonus: E85 Fueling

Mustang GT 5.0 Coyote E85 Fuel

Ethanol fuel, commonly referred to as E85 or flex fuel, is a blend of 85% ethanol and 15% gasoline. It’s long been touted as one of, if not, the best fuels for forced induction engines. However, E85 is becoming more popular for naturally aspirated engines. This is especially true since the release of the 3rd gen Coyote with its direct and port injection. The benefits of E85 really are impressive.

E85 Fueling Benefits

  • Knock suppression
  • Cooler internal cylinder temps
  • More efficient burn at lower lambda
  • 108+ octane rating

E85’s knock suppression allows the 5.0 Coyote to be tuned for more aggressive ignition timing. The sooner you can safely ignite the air/fuel mix the more torque and power you’ll make. E85 also has better latent heat of evaporation when compared to gasoline. In layman’s terms, when E85 changes from a liquid to a gas it’s more efficient at absorbing heat in the combustion chamber. Additionally, ethanol burns a lot more efficiently at lower lambda (richer AFR’s). We could go a bit deeper on all of these benefits, but we’ll leave it with one final comment on the benefits. Basically, E85 not only makes more power when properly tuned, but it also makes the power a lot safer than gasoline does.

What’s the Catch?

One thing we alluded to above is that E85 actually has less energy potential per unit compared to gasoline. That means you need to flow more fuel to compensate for the loss in energy per unit. 100% E85 burns at a stoich of roughly 9.8:1 compared to 14.7:1 for gasoline. In essence, E85 needs 1 part fuel for each 9.8 parts air and gasoline needs only 1 part fuel for each 14.7 parts air.

E85 needs roughly 30% more fuel flow for a given amount of air. As such, you should see fuel economy drop by about the same 30%. Most importantly, your fuel system must be able to keep up with that demand. Hence the need for a proper tune to fully utilize E85 without leaning out severely.

The demanding fuel flow isn’t an issue on the 2018+ gen 3 Coyote 5.0 as it’s equipped with the impressive direct and port injection system. However, older gen Coyotes will likely need upgraded injectors to keep up with the fuel demands. Finally, another catch is the availability of E85. It may be tough to find in certain towns and states around the US.

E85 Cost: ~Same as lower grade fuels (at the cost of worse fuel economy)

E85 HP Gains: ~30-50hp (E85 tune only)

2) Cold Air Intake

Mustang GT 5.0 Coyote Cold Air Intake

Moving onto another common power mod for the 5.0 Coyote – “cold air” performance intakes. This is pretty basic stuff and many are probably at least somewhat familiar with performance intakes. There are many different options on the market for the 5.0L Mustang GT. However, for the purpose of this article we will focus on the JLT cold air intake. It’s an awesome intake all around, and one of the most popular options for the 5.0 Coyote.

Cold Air Intake Benefits

  • Improved airflow
  • Horsepower increase

First off, the “cold air” aspect of the intake really doesn’t do much. A main benefit of performance intakes are the improved airflow, especially on the top-end. The factory 5.0 Coyote intake is efficient in the mid-range, but begins restricting airflow on the top-end. JLT’s massive performance intake allows the engine to breath much better at the top of the power curve. Ultimately, this allows the engine to carry the torque a bit better and improves horsepower.

Additionally, the open intake design will certainly free up some engine noises that are muffled by the enclosed factory airbox. It’s not uncommon to see vendors report gains of 20+ horsepower. However, it’s important to note they’re generally getting baseline numbers and then adding a tune along with the intake. Expect the intake by itself to show gains of 5-10 horsepower. Though, bigger gains are definitely possible with more and more mods, especially forced induction.

5.0 Coyote Cold Air Intake Cost: $319-349

5.0 Coyote Intake HP Gains: 5-10hp

For a more detailed upgraded intake guide, check out our Mustang GT 5.0 Cold Air Intake Guide.

3) Long Tube Headers

We’re discussing headers before the remainder of the exhaust for good reason. A set of high-flow or catless headers will provide much better performance benefits than a cat-back or axle-back. Additionally, we’ll discuss this more throughout but headers and an exhaust may be too loud for some. If you’re primary goal is power then you’ll likely want to consider a set of headers before anything else exhaust related. Following an E85 tune, this is going to be one of the best power mods on a NA 5.0 Coyote.

Long Tube Headers Benefits

  • Increased power
  • Reduced back-pressure
  • Improved sound

The horsepower and performance gains from 5.0 Coyote headers are due to several different reasons. First, most aftermarket headers replace the bulky, restrictive catalytic converters (cats) with high-flow cats. Some even completely remove the cats. The increased diameter further reduces back-pressure and helps move the air out of the cylinders more efficiently. In the interest of moving along we won’t get too technical. However, it’s important to note that the headers help reduce exhaust reversion. This is basically a phenomenon when exhaust gases move backwards due to lower pressure within the intake manifold and too much backpressure in the exhaust manifold.

We’ll leave the technical portion at that. What’s important is that headers help the engine move air out more efficiently and that’s a key to horsepower. NA 5.0 Coyotes can expect to pick up somewhere in the ballpark of 20-30 horsepower from headers alone. Of course, tuning is key to unlocking that full potential. Additionally, power gains become more impressive when adding a supercharger. Finally, headers will certainly add some intoxicating sounds. However, those looking to keep the sound somewhat modest may consider avoiding additional exhaust mods.

5.0 Coyote Long Tube Headers Cost: $500-2000

5.0 Coyote Long Tube Headers HP Gains: 20-30hp

4) Exhaust Upgrades

An American muscle car simply isn’t the same with a great sounding, loud exhaust. The stock 5.0 Mustang GT definitely makes some impressive sounds even with the stock exhaust. However, many look to cat-backs or axle-backs to improve sounds and get a bit more bark. The one drawback is that horsepower gains are pretty minimal for the price. We’ll keep this relatively short and expand in an exhaust only article in the future.

Cat-back Exhaust

A 5.0 Coyote cat-back exhaust system replaces your factory exhaust from the catalytic converter (cat) back, as the name suggests. Power gains with a cat-back exhaust come in around 3-5 horsepower. That may be optimistic, too. As stated earlier, it’s a pretty minimalistic gain for a rather expensive exhaust. That’s part of the reason we want to keep this section short. We wouldn’t necessarily recommend an exhaust for performance gains alone. Rather, it’s a nice side benefit to unleashing the sound of the 5.0 Coyote. Pick your favorite sounding exhaust and run with it.

We should, however, briefly mention that a cat-back will help shave some weight off the GT. The bulky resonator and mufflers are rather heavy. Cat-back exhaust systems may help shave off a solid 20-30 pounds. Not a bad thing for performance, but it’s pretty negligible just like the power gains. The weight also sits very low to the ground meaning it won’t have a huge improvement to handling, either.

Axle-back Exhaust

An axle-back exhaust for the Coyote 5.0 replaces the mufflers and exhaust tips. As the name suggests, it’s replacing the exhaust after the rear axle. This means the factory resonator and mid-pipe remain in place. It’s basically an alternative option to the cat-back that offers some different sounds for a slightly cheaper price (of course, dependent upon brands).

5.0 Coyote Exhaust Price: $500-2000+

5.0 Coyote Exhaust HP Gains: 3-5hp

Honorable Mentions – Additional Bolt-Ons

We left a few other solid bolt-ons out of this post. In the future, we’ll write more in-depth guides for each specific basic bolt-on for the 5.0 Coyote engines. A few other common mods include:

An intake manifold is a great mod for the 2011-2014 S197 Mustang GT’s and 2015-2017 S550 GT’s. The 2018+ models have a much better flowing intake manifold, so it’s not a very common upgrade on those. However, there are many different options for intake manifolds. Again, we’ll revisit this in a post of its own in the future.

While forced induction could be considered a bolt-on it’s obviously a serious commitment. Supercharger and turbo kits can run up to $10,000+ for the basic parts and installation alone. Throw in the other necessary supporting mods and it’s too much to cover in this post. We’ll have some separate guides coming soon.

4 Mods And You’ve Got 500whp

Not to beat a dead horse, but we’ll expand on all of the individual mods in their own posts in the near future. In this post we wanted to highlight the 4 primary basic mods that are uniform across all three generations of the 5.0 Coyote. Tunes, intakes, headers, and exhaust are among the most common bolt-on mods for the S197 and S550 Mustang GT’s. Each of these mods come with their own benefits, and a few have some downsides that you may consider prior to moving forward.

Tunes are a great way to unlock a bit of extra power in otherwise stock form. However, most importantly they help unleash the full potential of other bolt-on mods. Cold air intakes help the Coyote flow better on the top-end and lead to respectable gains for the price. Headers add some awesome sound and excellent performance gains, however come at the cost of potential emissions complications. Finally, cat-backs and axle-backs also add awesome sounds but don’t offer worthwhile performance benefits to justify the price.

Nonetheless, these basic bolt-on mods have the ability to push the 5.0 Coyote into the ballpark of 400-500+ wheel horsepower. Gains on the 2018+ 3rd gen Coyote come a bit easier. That’s not to take anything away from the older gen Coyotes. However, full bolt-on gen 1 Coyotes will probably land closer to 400whp and 450whp for gen 2 examples. The gen 3 Coyote has a pretty easy time getting into the 480-500+whp ballpark with these basic mods.

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4 Comments

  1. Hello. I have a s550 and the mods I have are 1 7/8 BBK long tube headers with 3 inch exaust with flow master mufflers wit a h pipe, Eldebrock Victor 5.0 intake and a 90 mm throttle body with a cold air intake to the inner fender out of the engine bay. Does any one do a tune for it. I have a Sct x4 tuner. Any help or input would be greatly appreciated. Thanks Paul W.

      1. Hello Jake. The car came with a Sct x4 tuner. And it does have a tune in it. When they installed the crate motor they just did the exaust and the headers. But since then I did the intake and the BBK 90mm throttle body and redid the exaust enlargement it to a 3 inch all the way through. Not too familiar with tuner. If it was yours who would you have tune it. Any help would be greatly appreciated.

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