How to Get S550 Performance Out of Your S197 MustangLast Updated August 8, 2023 | C.J. Tragakis
The 2005-2014 Mustang S197 offers great performance and fun with a retro-modern style. It’s also an affordable entry point into the Mustang community that features modern technology and comforts.
The S197 compares well to the S550 in general, but there are a lot of S197 Mustang performance parts on the aftermarket. This gives S197 enthusiasts a chance to match the performance of the newer Mustangs.
If you’re looking to upgrade your S197, this guide will show you how to bring it up to the S550’s level of power, handling, and braking. We’ll be focusing on the GT trim here, but many of these upgrades also apply to the V6.
Add Horsepower to Your S197 Mustang
The aftermarket gives you a lot of opportunity to catch up to the S550 in terms of power. If you’ve got a 2011-2014 S197, you’re already a leg-up on the older S197s. The 5.0L V8 in these models produces 412 hp compared to the 4.6L V8’s 300 hp in the 2005-2010 Mustang GTs.
For the 5.0 motor, adding an electronic tune is a simple way to bring your 2011-2014 Mustang to the level of a 2015-2017 or even 2018+. Things get a bit more difficult when we look at the 2005-2010 S197s. If you’re looking for easy ways to make your 4.6 Mustang faster, there are a few good places to start.
S197 Bolt-On Power Upgrades (Easy-Moderate)
Bolt-on mods are the most practical and affordable for beginners and journeymen.
We favor adding a cat-back exhaust system, cold air intake, and tune. This trifecta of bolt-on upgrades is great for modders of any skill level. Start with an exhaust, then go on to adding the cold-air intake and tune. Some cold air intakes actually require a tune, so it makes sense to do those in conjunction. Tuning last will allow you to ensure everything is calibrated and working together properly.
Combined with an aftermarket catback exhaust and cold-air intake, a tune can give you a horsepower bump of around 30-40 hp and a torque increase of around 30-40 lb-ft. Your performance will vary by product and conditions, and bigger gains are achievable.
Cat-Back Exhaust System
A cat-back exhaust will help free up your airflow, giving you more power. You’ll also get a great custom sound. This will require some cutting of your exhaust pipes, making it moderately difficult for newcomers. You can also have an exhaust shop do the install for you to keep it simple.
Cold Air Intake
Cold air intakes are very simple to install, requiring just a few hand tools. You won’t see real gains until you combine them with a tune and/or exhaust, but you can still get a few extra horses with a cold air intake alone. The increased flow of cold, dense air will improve fuel burn in your engine. Combined with a tune and exhaust, you’ll really see results.
An electronic tune is the easiest modification you can make to your car. All you have to do is plug in the programmer and wait for the tune to load. Even though they’re simple to use, a tuner will give you massive benefits. Plus, you can customize them exactly to your liking.
Our recommended tune is the popular SCT X4, which works very well with the modular engine of the S197. You’ll also be able to check diagnostic codes.
This will get the S197 Mustang GT’s 300 horsepower a bit closer to the 420 hp put out by the first S550 iteration. You’ll feel the difference, especially since the S197 is about 200 lbs lighter than the S550.
S197 Superchargers (Difficult)
You’ll have to go beyond bolt-ons to truly match the power of the S550. A supercharger will vastly increase the amount of horsepower your S197 has. Gains are regularly in the neighborhood of 100-200 hp, which will easily put an S197 in competition with an S550. Plus, you get to enjoy the great turbine sound along with your V8 soundtrack.
This is an intermediate step between basic bolt-ons and an engine swap. It still requires a considerable amount of time and effort, but not to the level of a crate swap.
We recommend superchargers for drag strip applications. They’re fun on the street, but most daily drivers don’t need that much power (fun as it may be). Below are some popular options for the Mustang.
S197 Coyote Swap (Most Difficult)
The simplest thing to recommend as an upgrade is swapping a Coyote engine into the S197. However, that’s much easier said than done. This project will take a lot of time, money, and skill.
If you want to take a look at the process, check out our guide to Coyote swapping a New Edge Mustang for reference. It’s not exactly the same process for the S197, but it’ll give you an idea of what’s involved. This is the most direct way to get S550 performance and will help you on the street, autocross course, or drag strip.
S197 Handling Upgrades
The live axle of the S197 gives it a stiffer ride than the S550, and handling won’t feel quite as sharp. However, it is favored by those that drag race or drift their cars. This gives the S197 a unique advantage over the S550. If you want to drag or drift the S197, focus on specific kits for those purposes, like this Ford Performance drag spring kit. If you’re after smoother, more precise handling, read on.
S197 Suspension Bolt-Ons (Easy-Moderate)
If you want improved handling for autocross or just better daily-driving, there are some aftermarket upgrades to help. Swapping in an independent rear suspension set-up for the S197 is possible, but very expensive and time-consuming. These upgrades are the better way to go for the vast majority of enthusiasts.
We recommend adding a coilover kit. Using a coil spring over a shock absorber, they reduce body roll and tighten steering. This means improved handling and control, with lots of adjustability. You can also use coilovers to reduce the ride height of your car, which will further lower your center of gravity. Standalone coil springs or lowering springs are another viable option. Check out some great options below.
Upgraded strut mounts, like these Ford Performance ones for the 2005-2010 Mustang GT, are a cost-effective way to improve handling. These components sit on top of your strut assembly and are important for reducing noise and vibration. If your front suspension is making noise, these will also smooth things out. By replacing your old factory strut mounts, you can enjoy a smoother ride and more responsive steering.
Rear Lower Control Arm
Replacing your stock component with an aftermarket rear lower control arm will help you launch harder and reduce wheel hop. By mitigating excess axle movement, you’ll be able to better put down additional power. Cornering will be improved too.
S197 Air Suspension (Difficult)
To go all out, you could add an air ride suspension kit. The installation is more involved and they can be pricey, but there are some awesome benefits. You can easily customize your ride height. This means low height and center of gravity when you want it, and normal height when you’re driving over rough roads. Check out this Air Lift Performance set for one of the more affordable options.
S197 Brake Upgrades
It can be tempting to stop with horsepower and suspension upgrades. If you’ve just done bolt-on mods, you can keep your stock set. However, better brakes will help you handle the additional power and give you improved stopping distance. That’s good for the street and the track. If you’re drag racing, drifting, swapping engines, or adding a supercharger, performance brakes are a necessity.
Check out the products below to optimize your brake set-up.
Finding the Best Upgrades for Your S197 Mustang
The way you upgrade your S197 with aftermarket parts can give it the edge to better compete with newer Mustangs. While the quest for more power is usually never-ending, these mods can serve as a great starting point to modernize your 2005-2014 Mustang. Pick the upgrades that work best for your driving applications. No matter what you decide on, we’ll help you find the Mustang mods on your wishlist.