Should You Take the 2005 Toyota Highlander Off Road?

The 2005 Toyota Highlander can handle some light off-roading if needed, but is more suited for paved roads.
Written by Tiffany Leung
Reviewed by Jessica Barrett
Updated on Nov 23, 2022
The 2005
Toyota Highlander
is a reliable SUV that can accommodate casual off-road adventures. However, its limited off-road abilities leave drivers yearning for more.
Having the right off-road vehicle is an essential element for an awesome adventure. After all, you want to be safe when tackling tough terrain. A capable off-roader will also make the trip fun, rather than riddled with frustration. That being said, how can you tell which vehicles are back-road worthy and which aren’t?
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, is here to analyze the 2005 Toyota Highlander’s off-road capabilities, as well as a few alternatives to this SUV.
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Can the 2005 Toyota Highlander go off-road?

Yes, but with limited capacity. The 2005 Highlander has the option of being powered by a V6 engine with full-time four-wheel drive. While this allows the Highlander to tackle slippery and muddy roads, don’t count on it to get out of knee-high snow or handle rough terrains. The unibody frame of the 2005 Highlander makes it unsuitable for rock crawling or any extreme terrains. Large dips and steep climbs make for a bumpy ride and can cause serious damage to the vehicle.
The 2005 Toyota Highlander can be found starting at just under $2,000 used. Finding one with FWD would do the trick for some very light off-roading.

Ground clearance

The ground clearance height should be one of the first numbers to look at when choosing an off-road vehicle. The 2005 Highlander’s minimum ground clearance is 7.3 inches, which severely limits what type of terrain it can travel on without issues.
Having a minimum ground clearance of 8.8 inches is ideal for off-road vehicles. The higher the clearance, the more advantageous it is on uneven terrain. It also minimizes the risk of damaging the undercarriage. 
On the other hand, you may be able to install larger compatible tires and a lift kit to help the Highlander get higher off the ground. 


To go off-roading, you need a vehicle that has enough turning power to push through mud or over obstacles. Having large low-end torque (torque at lower rpm) is an indication of a good off-road vehicle, as it allows for better control.
The 2005 Toyota Highlander’s 3.3-liter V6 DOHC engine produces a maximum torque of 242 lb-ft @ 4,400 RPM. This translates to an unimpressive low-end torque, which limits its ability to challenge uncharted roads. Some may even say the 2005 Highlander is better off on pavement instead. 


The Highlander comes with 18-inch wheels with P235/65R18 106V all-season tires
However, if off-roading is on the agenda,
all-terrain tires
, or A/T tires, are recommended. They are designed for a variety of terrains but still handle paved roads just as well. Switching to A/T tires would give the 2005 Toyota Highlander better traction in wet conditions. On the other hand, these tires will wear out faster than standard tires, meaning they require replacements more often. This should be taken into account as it will increase the cost of ownership for a Highlander. 


The 2005 Highlander comes standard with front-wheel drive. However, there is the option for all-wheel drive, which will better handle sticky situations. That being said, turning power and significant ground clearance are the major factors to consider.
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The vehicle’s approach angle and departure angle determine the obstacles it can climb, including large boulders.
  • Approach angle: the maximum angle of a ramp at which the vehicle can climb without interference 
  • Departure angle: the maximum angle of a ramp at which the vehicle can descend without damage
The 2005 Highlander‘s approach and departure angles are 28 and 22 degrees respectively. This is semi-acceptable, given that the ideal angles are 28 degrees and above. A lift kit and larger tires compatible with the Highlander can also be installed to improve the angles.
If you choose to go this route, always have it done by a professional to ensure the installation is correct.

Off-road rating: Rough and ready

We’ve rated the 2005 Toyota Highlander using
DIRT rating system, which stands for: 
Don’t Try It
Vehicles better suited for highway conditions
In a Pinch
Vehicles that can handle off-road conditions under dire circumstances
Rough and Ready
Vehicles capable of handling casual off-roading
Trail Boss
True off-road vehicles that can tackle a range of terrain and road conditions
After looking at the key features, the 2005 Highlander earns an I rating. Although the Highlander can handle slightly rougher terrains, it’s best to stay on well-kept roads. 

The best off-road alternatives to the Toyota Highlander

If you want a vehicle for serious off-roading, the 2005 Highlander may not be the best choice. 
Here are the best alternatives to the Toyota Highlander:  
Best comparable alternative
2004 Lexus RX
Powered by a 3.3-liter V6 engine that produces 230 horsepower and 242 lb-ft of torque at 3,600 rpm. It also has a ground clearance of 8.3 inches, allowing it to tackle off-roading better than the Highlander.
Best affordable alternative
2003 Pontiac Vibe
This alternative is more affordable yet handles off-roading without complaints. It is powered by a 1.8L L4 DOHC engine that produces 130hp and 125 lb-ft of torque at 4,200 rpm. Its 8.1-inch ground clearance isn’t impressive but still better than the Highlander.

How to find affordable car insurance for off-road vehicles

Once you find the best off-roading vehicles for your driving style, it will open up a new world of exploration. However, they tend to have higher insurance rates, which means a greater cost of ownership compared to a regular vehicle. 
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