I recently had the chance to drive a 2002 Mercedes-Benz SL 500 Silver Arrow, which really was the end of the line for the “old-school” Mercedes-Benz. This was quite an experience and I enjoyed it immensely, and it was interesting to remember how Mercedes used to be.
First, a little overview. Mercedes-Benz was known for years for building the world standard of cars. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Mercedes-Benz models were the most solid, reliable, well-engineered cars on the planet — and they’d run forever. That started to change in the late 1990s as Mercedes expanded its horizons into many more market segments, like the midsize M-Class SUV, among others.
By the early 2000s, Mercedes had many products, but quality had declined considerably — and while that quality has improved greatly in recent years, there was a period of about a decade when things weren’t so great. And the 1990-2002 Mercedes-Benz SL was essentially the last car to hail from before that period began.
That’s mostly due to the SL’s notoriously long model runs, which typically last a decade or more. This particular SL debuted in 1990 with a very different look — and it lasted through Mercedes’ model name changes (from “500 SL” to “SL 500”) and a face-lift in 1996, leading up to the very last model years in 2001 and 2002. To commemorate the end of this line, Mercedes offered the Silver Arrow SL, which was essentially a handsome trim package at the end of production.
Under the hood, the SL 500 Silver Arrow used a 5-liter V8 with about 320 horsepower — a good powertrain that motivates it well. I’ve complained that modern SL models aren’t sports cars even a little bit, but I was surprised by just how sporty this particular SL felt. It was unusually spry and exciting around corners. It was also surprisingly responsive to throttle input, which isn’t something I normally associate with Mercedes-Benz models from this era — but it was lighter on its feet than I was expecting.
The really impressive part of this car, though, undoubtedly comes with its solid feel — it just offers incredibly sturdy construction, and it really feels well-built, capable and stable, like it can easily handle speeds well in excess of 100 miles per hour. That’s because it can: It was built for serious autobahn driving, and it can still do such driving with ease.
The interior may not be gorgeous by modern standards, but it remains high-quality and functional, with everything working as designed — and everything laid out simply and easily. It’s quite impressive just how simple, well-built and truly excellent this vehicle is, even if it doesn’t have anywhere near the technical prowess of Mercedes-Benz models that came later.
And, indeed, it doesn’t have such technical prowess. Mercedes-Benz traded in its “standard of the world” reliability in the early 2000s for high-tech gadgets and features, which modern customers seem to prefer, and this SL certainly doesn’t offer that. It’s simple, but it’s robust — and in that sense, it’s the final old-school Mercedes-Benz.
It’s a pleasure to drive this vehicle, and it’s a pleasure to be transported to a different era of Mercedes-Benz — and while I think the modern era of Mercedes is the best, it’s easy to appreciate the automaker’s engineering prowess back in the 1980s and 1990s. Find a Mercedes-Benz SL 500 for sale