The Tesla Model 3 democratized electric cars long before the Model Y crossover became the brand's top seller. The Model 3 springboarded Tesla into a profit-making giant and became the first EV in the world to surpass one million cumulative sales in 2021

Recently, the much-needed "Highland" update has put the Model 3 back in the news. It carries over the Model 3's strengths and takes a big stride forward in terms of quality and refinement. It's certainly the one to go for if you want the latest and the greatest.

2022 Tesla Model 3 rear three quarters

But thousands of older Model 3s are still in faithful service, or on sale in the used car market. Some cost under $25,000 and can even qualify for the used-EV tax credit of $4,000. That begs the question: Is the pre-facelift Model 3 still relevant, even after being on sale for seven long years?

To find out, I rented a standard-range RWD Model 3 from Turo and drove it 1,100 miles over three days. I road-tripped from New York City to Niagara Falls via Rochester and returned to the city via a similar route.

What I found is that despite its age, the original Model 3 is good enough to remain a contender in the electric space even today.

Driveability Is Excellent

I picked the car up from Lower Manhattan and then hit I-280 towards Rochester. Its small footprint and hefty but accurate steering helped me negotiate Manhattan’s skyscraper-lined and congested streets and past reckless delivery riders and cabbies.

With no internal combustion engine under the hood and a bespoke architecture tailored to optimize interior space, the driving position is further forward than a traditional gas car, opening relatively more legroom at the rear.

2022 Tesla Model 3 charging

This also enables a clear, unobstructed view of the road ahead. The edges of the hood are visible, allowing you to precisely place the car between tight spaces. You’re not hyper-aware of its dimensions either, and the cabin nicely envelops you.

Once the concrete jungle was in my rearview mirror, the landscape changed dramatically. Spring in Upstate New York means lush greenery and blooming wildflowers, with roads snaking past charming villages with boutique shops, cafes, and rustic homes.

On the highway, amidst heavy downpour and crosswinds, the Model 3 exhibited sublime body control. Its ride and handling were way more sophisticated than I expected, and that's saying something for what was considered only a start-up effort a few years ago.

It’s stiffly sprung, but the damping is excellent and the independent springs on all corners absorb most undulations with ease. However, this particular car did thump over larger imperfections.

Beyond 65 mph, it gets loud, with considerable wind and tire noise entering the cabin—both these issues seem to be fixed on the Highland update thanks to revised suspension geometry and improved soundproofing. For the most part, these issues aren’t dealbreakers, and you can live with them.

About That Range Anxiety

I did not tinker with the 90% charge limit set by the owner. At 90%, the range was about 227 miles. It delivers an EPA-estimated 272 miles on a full charge. The new Long Range Model 3 has 341 miles of EPA range.

This car had a real-world consumption of about 3.8 miles per kilowatt hour over 40,000 miles; that's remarkably impressive. I averaged even better during my trip, about 4.2 miles per kWh with 90% highway driving. I was gentle on the throttle and drove in "Chill" mode, relied on one-pedal driving and set the lowest fan speed for climate for the whole trip.

The navigation software is arguably one of the best features. If you’re new to Tesla, here’s a primer: It automatically picks Superchargers along your route to ensure you reach your destination without running out of charge. All you have to do is enter your desired address and let the system plan the route for you. Out of the eight stops I took to charge, seven were located within rest areas, with easy access to restrooms, restaurants, and cafes.

It’s incredibly convenient, and finding plugs on my route to Rochester, and then onward to Niagara Falls the next day, was a breeze. However, my family decided to make a brief stop at Letchworth State Park, and the system did not suggest any charging stops along the route. I arrived at the park with 30 miles of range and completely lost cell network. Tesla’s navigation also seemed to lose its data connectivity.

While it uses offline maps to find nearby Superchargers in such situations, you need to enter the exact address (as per Tesla’s guidelines), which I didn't have. I was dehydrated, my palms began sweating and my cousin riding shotgun did not expect to spend her graduation day potentially getting stranded in rural New York, that too on her very first Tesla ride. (I could have easily avoided this by not ignoring two previous low SoC warnings on the screen.)

Luckily, the system prompted me to drive to a nearby village called Dansville. Apart from a gas station, a handful of buildings, and empty cafes, the village was deserted. But it had an eight-stall Supercharging station that went live in October last year.

It turns out New York State has the fourth-best Supercharger network in the U.S. with 92 stations, ranking behind California (459), Texas (162), and Florida (160), according to the Alternative Fuels Data Center. By contrast, the charging landscape is dire in New York City and is further exacerbated by the Supercharger layoffs.

2022 Tesla Model 3 side profile

I reached the Dansville station with just 1% range remaining and took a long, deep breath, relieved to have narrowly avoided getting stranded in the middle of nowhere without cell service.

Lesson learned: Never ignore the warnings on the screen, and let your Tesla guide you to nearby Superchargers when it deems necessary.

The Beacon Of Minimalism

Despite having driven the "S3XY" models before this, the Model 3’s interior reminded me how striking its simplicity and minimalism are. My 65-year-old father who has only ever driven gas cars was also shocked by the monolithic infotainment screen and the lack of buttons.

Tesla Model 3 interior

Frustratingly, the steering-mounted controls lack markers or symbols, so until you spend enough time familiarizing yourself with them, you're clueless about their functions. Suppose you rent a Tesla for the first time and are running late, you would be forced to control everything from the central screen, which can be dangerously distracting as it takes your eyes off the road.

That said, the MY2022 Model 3 had no obvious quality issues, or any rattles or squeaks emerging from cheap plastics. It felt well put together. Some older model-year versions might still suffer from paint blemishes or panel gaps.

So, Is It Worth It?

I'd say so, yes.

Its sprightly ride and handling, instant torque, neck-snapping acceleration, and brilliant software package give it plenty of character. It offers a quintessential Tesla experience without the high cost of a new car, making it a worthy gateway to electrification.

If you can look past the chaos at Tesla, the old Model 3 objectively stands out as one of the best EVs on the used market today.

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