Yvan Muller fired an early warning of intent by repeatedly dipping under lap record pace to top the opening World Touring Car practice at the Salzburgring.
The Frenchman first moved to the top of the timesheets with a 1m26.391s, a full four tenths quicker than Rob Huff's 2012 benchmark, 12 minutes from the end.
That would have been enough to keep him top, but in the final seconds of the session he went faster still, posting a 1m26.279s that left him more than four tenths clear of the chasing pack.
Muller's RML Chevrolet team-mate Tom Chilton and Bamboo's Alex MacDowall were second and third respectively, the pair split by just 18 thousandths of a second.
Chilton had himself occupied top spot 10 minutes into the session, and his sector-two split remained the best of any driver.
Defending champion Huff, a winner last time out in Hungary, was fourth fastest, narrowly ahead of the Zengo Honda of Norbert Michelisz and the second Bamboo Chevrolet of James Nash.
Pepe Oriola made it two SEATs in the top seven, narrowly edging out Michel Nykjaer in the Nika Chevrolet, Tom Coronel's ROAL BMW and the Lada of James Thompson.
The Briton spent much of the session in the top six, only to be bumped down by a flurry of late improvements.
As the pace improved, a few mistakes also crept in, notably at the Turn 1 chicane where Huff, Coronel, Chilton and Franz Engstler all ran too deep.
Pos Driver Team/Car Time Gap
1. Yvan Muller RML Chevrolet 1m26.279s
2. Tom Chilton RML Chevrolet 1m26.680s + 0.401s
3. Alex MacDowall Bamboo Chevrolet 1m26.698s + 0.419s
4. Rob Huff Munnich SEAT 1m26.806s + 0.527s
5. Norbert Michelisz Zengo Honda 1m26.967s + 0.688s
6. James Nash Bamboo Chevrolet 1m26.977s + 0.698s
7. Pepe Oriola Tuenti SEAT 1m27.126s + 0.847s
8. Michel Nykjaer Nika Chevrolet 1m27.160s + 0.881s
9. Tom Coronel ROAL BMW 1m27.218s + 0.939s
10. James Thompson Lada 1m27.255s + 0.976s
11. Gabriele Tarquini Honda 1m27.269s + 0.990s
12. Marc Basseng Munnich SEAT 1m27.373s + 1.094s
13. Mehdi Bennani Proteam BMW 1m27.601s + 1.322s
14. Tiago Monteiro Honda 1m27.700s + 1.421s
15. Franz Engstler Engstler BMW 1m27.710s + 1.431s
16. Stefano D'Aste PB BMW 1m27.712s + 1.433s
17. Fredy Barth Wiechers BMW 1m27.898s + 1.619s
18. Fernando Monje Campos SEAT 1m28.236s + 1.957s
19. Hugo Valente Campos SEAT 1m28.507s + 2.228s
20. Charles Ng Engstler BMW 1m28.723s + 2.444s
21. Mikhail Kozlovskiy Lada 1m28.984s + 2.705s
22. Rene Munnich Munnich SEAT 1m32.140s + 5.861s
23. Darryl O'Young ROAL BMW