Once upon a time, the Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren was the king of the supercar world. When it debuted for 2003, its dramatic styling with a miles-long bonnet and F1-themed nose was second only to what was hidden underneath. Its supercharged 5.4-litre V8 engine developed 617 bhp, which is still a crazy amount in 2020 but 17 years ago, it was among the most powerful production cars in the world.
On the flip side of this is the McLaren 540C. It's a fantastic mid-engined supercar in McLaren's Sports Series, but whereas the SLR was king of its day, the 540C is the entry-level model. That said, it's no slouch with a twin-turbocharged 3.8-litre V8 generating 540 bhp. It's also considerably lighter than the beefy SLR, and when you peruse the stats on paper, the two cars are actually quite comparable.
That's the crux for this drag race from Auto Trader on YouTube, helmed by former Top Gear host Rory Reid. It's a generational race, and though the newest SLR is just 10 years old, we're still living in a very fast-paced era of automotive evolution. Despite a big horsepower disadvantage and a monumental disparity in torque, can the new mid-engine McLaren outperform the old Mercedes-infused front-engine McLaren?
As with many drag races of this nature, the answer isn't found in a single run and that's a good thing for fans of the SLR. With a big engine up front, no launch control, and enough torque to tow a planet, the Merc was literally tractionless against the 540c and its better tech. The race wasn't just a win for the new kid, but a slaughter. A second race didn't see much change, but by the third race, the SLR's tyres had more heat in them. It was a photo finish, and we'll let the video reveal the winner.
For that matter, we'll also yield to the video for a follow-up roll race as well as a 0-100-0 mph challenge. Actually, we'll spoil the last one by saying the SLR – without launch control and saddled with significantly more mass – lost miserably in the acceleration-brake challenge. But in the realm of straight-line speed, the elder McLaren still has plenty of mojo.