Michael Yardy held Sussex's batting together with 69 as the Division One leaders were kept in check by a persevering Surrey attack on the second day at Arundel.
Chris Tremlett and Tim Linley shared four wickets with the second new ball as Sussex were bowled out for 295 and Surrey's openers Rory Burns and Arun Harinath survived four overs unscathed to reach 1-0 at stumps.
A slow, low pitch inhibited Sussex's stroke-players after Surrey's acting captain Vikram Solanki had won the toss and although several of their batsmen got starts only Yardy went past 50.
The onus was on Sussex to set the tone after the loss of the first day to rain but it was hard work on a surface that put a premium on the ability to play late and wait to punish the bad ball.
Overcast conditions were another problem for the hosts to overcome and Sussex did well to only lose two wickets before lunch after the start was delayed for 15 minutes following overnight rain.
Luke Wells padded up to a straight delivery in Jade Dernbach's opening burst and fellow opener Chris Nash (32) drove the first ball of a new spell from Linley in the 23rd over straight to cover as his frustrating tendency to get starts without going on this season continued.
Yardy and skipper Ed Joyce raised the tempo after lunch as 72 runs were added in an hour, although Joyce - who had struck seven boundaries in his 36 - could consider himself unlucky when he mistimed an attempted pull and Linley stuck out his right hand in his follow through to take a superb return catch after the third-wicket pair had put on 61.
Matt Prior, searching for form ahead of the Ashes series, looked in the mood to cash in on two let-offs. On 18 and then 24 he was dropped in the deep on the leg side, first by Harinath and then by Zander de Bruyn, mistiming pull shots.
The England wicketkeeper batted for nearly two hours for his 41 and, having established himself, it was a surprise when he top-edged a sweep and Gary Wilson ran across from slip to give left-arm spinner Zafar Ansari a wicket in his first Championship appearance of the season.
Ben Brown fell cheaply when Dernbach nipped a delivery back through his defences but Luke Wright, fresh from his career-best 187 against Middlesex last week, found a reliable partner in Chris Jordan, anxious to impress his former county, and they added 59 for the seventh wicket.
Surrey took the new ball as soon as it became available and it paid off as the last four wickets fell in seven overs. Tremlett pushed a delivery across Wright's defences and Ricky Ponting held on at second slip, then the former Australia captain took an even better catch low down to unhinge Steve Magoffin.
Tremlett trapped James Anyon in front for a duck and Jordan was last out for 41, bowled around his legs by Linley - who finished with 4-68 runs against his former county.