Runaway championship leader Vandoorne set the initial pace early on in the session and never looked like missing out on pole position.
The Belgian ran a different strategy in qualifying to the rest of the field.
As others entered the pits for their mid-session tyre changes Vandoorne, who was hampered by traffic in qualifying in Hungary, stayed out on the empty track to set the fastest time, a 1m56.278s.
Vandoorne: I had to dominate GP2
This alternative strategy meant Vandoorne could sit out the final few minutes of the session, which he did as he waited nervously on the pitwall to see if anyone could beat his time.
They couldn't, but relative GP2 newcomer Rowland came the closest to upsetting the home crowd with a 1m56.425s for MP Motorsport, just 0.147 seconds behind Vandoorne.
Rapax driver Sergey Sirotkin briefly held second on the grid before Rowland pipped his time by less than a tenth of a second.
Jordan King capped off a strong session with fourth on the grid ahead of Honda junior Nobuharu Matsushita, who like Sirotkin briefly held second place in the closing stages.
Mitch Evans edged out Red Bull protege Pierre Gasly for sixth while Alexander Rossi, who tried in vain late on to topple Vandoorne, finished the session eighth.
Williams F1 development driver Alex Lynn and Arden International driver Norman Nato rounded out the top 10.
Ferrari junior Raffaele Marciello and Campos Racing's Rio Haryanto - currently second in the points - both struggled in the early stages of the session and were way down the order.
They both improved following the mid-session tyre change to finish 11th and 12th respectively.
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