Alain Menu led the opening practice times on the World Touring Car Championship's maiden visit to the 4.2km Salzburgring.
Seeking his third WTCC victory of the season, Menu's fastest lap of 1m27.008s edged out championship leader and Chevrolet team-mate Yvan Muller by just 0.077s.
Menu appeared to have a slight edge throughout, setting an early marker before Muller moved into top spot shortly after one-third distance. Menu returned to P1 just after the half way point, shading the Frenchman's time by 0.003s and gradually extending his advantage on later runs.
Muller was one of several drivers who fell foul of the right-left chicane at the Austrian venue's Turn 1. The triple-world champion was twice forced to take to the escape road and rejoin at Turn 3, while Hungaroring reversed-grid victor Norbert Michelisz (Zengo BMW) also spun at the chicane.
The third factory Cruze of Rob Huff finished almost half a second in arrears in third. The Briton was denied a final opportunity to improve his position when Alex MacDowall's privately-entered bamboo-engineering Chevrolet brought out the red flags with two minutes of track time scheduled to run.
Demonstrating the strength of the Cruze at the noted power circuit, WTCC rookie MacDowall had impressed by holding fourth for much of the session.
Dutchman Tom Coronel would eventually demote MacDowall, but the BMW racer's final deficit to Menu of 0.812s suggests the ROAL Motorsport crew have work to do in the final practice session ahead of qualifying.
The leading SEAT runner of Slovakia Ring front row qualifier Aleksei Dudukalo finished over a second behind Menu in sixth. Dudukalo's Lukoil team-mate Gabriele Tarquini, the only non-Chevrolet driver to win a feature race this season, took an unaccustomed 20th.
Franz Engstler suffered unfulfilled potential at the preceding meeting at the Hungaroring, but the Team Engstler man claimed an encouraging seventh ahead of improving single-seater convert Pasquale Di Sabatino in the second bamboo entry.
MacDowall's incident occurred when he took to the gravel at Turn 5 while avoiding a collision with the rear of team-mate Di Sabatino. The session had earlier been red-flagged when Independents' Trophy front runner Stefano D'Aste's Wiechers-Sport BMW went off at the entrance to Turn 10.
Pos Driver Team/Car Time Gap 1. Alain Menu Chevrolet 1m27.008s 2. Yvan Muller Chevrolet 1m27.085s + 0.077s 3. Robert Huff Chevrolet 1m27.492s + 0.484s 4. Tom Coronel ROAL BMW 1m27.820s + 0.812s 5. Alex MacDowall bamboo Chevrolet 1m27.989s + 0.981s 6. Aleksei Dudukalo Lukoil SEAT 1m28.164s + 1.156s 7. Franz Engstler Engstler BMW 1m28.245s + 1.237s 8. Pasquale di Sabatino bamboo Chevrolet 1m28.338s + 1.330s 9. James Nash Arena Ford 1m28.408s + 1.400s 10. Pepe Oriola Tuenti SEAT 1m28.469s + 1.461s 11. Stefano D'Aste Wiechers BMW 1m28.488s + 1.480s 12. Norbert Michelisz Zengo BMW 1m28.549s + 1.541s 13. Tiago Monteiro Tuenti SEAT 1m28.710s + 1.702s 14. Alberto Cerqui ROAL BMW 1m28.746s + 1.738s 15. Mehdi Bennani Proteam BMW 1m28.763s + 1.755s 16. Darryl O'Young Special Tuning SEAT 1m28.928s + 1.920s 17. Charles Ng Engstler BMW 1m29.171s + 2.163s 18. Tom Chilton Arena Ford 1m29.252s + 2.244s 19. Gabor Weber Zengo BMW 1m29.313s + 2.305s 20. Gabriele Tarquini Lukoil SEAT 1m29.464s + 2.456s 21. Tom Boardman Special Tuning SEAT 1m29.773s + 2.765s