Brawny. That’s the Hilux Surf, first developed in 1984 when Toyota modified the Hilux pick up into an SUV. Also known as the 4 Runner, the Surf was a Hilux with the cab deleted, a couple of seats added and then covered up with fiberglass. Inevitably, it became the trendsetter for an industry standard of pick-ups morphing into semi-luxury SUVs.
Think the Ford Ranger pick-up and the Everest SUV or the Toyota Fortuner, based off the Hilux pick-up. Although the Fortuner and FJ cruiser replaced the Surf in 2009, (It lives on as the 4 runner in the US) the Surf still retains iconic appeal.
I had the keys to one of the last SSR-X models made in 2009 over the weekend and it didn’t disappoint. It looks as soft as a brick that was raised in a rough neighbourhood.
Flared wheel arches and a face generously described as flat, the Surf is as butch as they come. Toyota has been making reliable SUV’s and with the Surf they want you to know. It’s like that guy who puts in endless hours at the gym and, while it’s tacky and obviously narcissistic of them to walk around shirtless, you kinda understand. They’re proud, and so is the 2009 Surf.
And yet, it is refined, at home in the tough heart of the African plains, as well as the tyre-melting tarmac of Nyali. The 2009 Model shares underpinnings with the Prado but while the latter is strictly meant for businessmen, politicians and the odd drug dealer, the Surf just doesn’t conform.
Sure, it lacks the badge credentials of pricier marques but has the enviable reliability reputation that Toyota commands worldwide. This particular design, as in all Surf’s, will always be iconic. It doesn’t look beautiful or even handsome, because that’s not what it’s meant to be. In traffic it stands out among bland and uninspired modern cars.
All Toyotas are designed by software and assembled by robots as all other cars but the 2009 model genuinely looks different. I appreciated the fabric seats as leather would have been uncomfortable in the coastal heat, and the plastic trim is unpretentious. In and out and underneath this is, first and foremost, a tool.
If you want speed you’re better off with a bow-legged donkey. It comes with a 2.7 litre petrol engine, which has to move 1,850 kg of off-road machinery. To do this however, it only produces 157 horsepower and 246 Nm of torque.
The Surf is after all, originally inspired by a pick-up, and is, therefore not meant to be fast or comfortable. Toyota is a global powerhouse in making practical and efficient cars. That means making them just fast enough, safe enough and in the case of the Hilux Surf, practical enough.
It’s a body on frame proper 4X4, none of that contemporary cool crossover nonsense. The 205 mm ground clearance means it can tackle a medium sized hill, no fuss no muss.
The driving position is commanding and visibility great all round. The fabric seats are comfortable, engine efficient and the air conditioning keeps you cool. But it’s also more than enough to handle anything your vehicular excursions throw in your way.
And these things basically never die; the very first models are still on the road and have embedded themselves in the hearts of their owners who refuse to part with them. The SSR-X could use about 50 more horsepower and I’d have preferred it with a manual but we live in automatic times.
It will cost you upwards of Sh 2 million for a clean ‘09 model but you can be assured it will maintain its value in the long term. That can’t be said of most cars. This is a car like they used to be made.