The Finn, who drives a Polo R for the Volkswagen Motorsport team, completed the 4.59-kilometre test from Villa Garcia to Cabalango in a time of 2m31.128s to earn the right to select his road position for day one’s stages first.
World Champion Sebastien Loeb was second fastest in a Citroen DS3, just 0.035sec slower, while Latvala’s team-mate Sebastien Ogier was third, 0.292sec adrift in another Polo R.
In contrast to the slippery, muddy conditions seen in qualifying in 2012, this morning’s session was held in warm and dry conditions. The stage featured a soft, sandy surface and an extremely high-speed character.
“For the first 2km of the stage I think it was in sixth gear all the time!” Latvala told wrc.com.
“There was just one place where I had to brake a little bit. That’s the case - you have to keep the pedal to the metal on that stage. Towards the end it was a bit more technical. If you want to do a good time there you need to be confident with the car.”
Latvala opted to run the soft-compound Michelin tyres – the French firm’s nominated option for the event. “Looking at the conditions, I think these will be the best choice for the rally,” he added.
The five fastest drivers were separated by less than one second. Citroen DS3 driver Dani Sordo was fourth quickest, with Mikko Hirvonen fifth in a similar car.
Ogier, the current championship leader, said: “My car felt okay and it’s no surprise that it’s so close between everybody because there are not so many corners on the stage.
“It’s really fast and there are not so many places to make the difference. So we just tried to avoid any mistakes. If you make any in qualifying you can lose a lot of places.”
Asked if he was surprised by Loeb’s pace after two rallies away, Ogier said: “No, I’m not surprised. I expected him to be there!”
Drivers will select their road positions for day one at 13:00hrs local time. The first stage, Super Especial Branca Unico, goes live at 1600hrs local time tonight (Wednesday).
Ahead of the selection, Latvala was still considering his options. “I think at the moment you would like to start far back but there is a chance of rain which is mixing the situation,” he said.
“There were a couple of times last year when I won qualifying and I ended up taking completely the wrong start position, so I wouldn’t want to do that.”