Most of the finalists failed to convince with the South Africa tournament now just two months away, but Ivory Coast had the look of potential continental champions.
Their victory, extending the team's unbeaten run to 22 matches, came after starting with an experimental line-up that saw both Yaya Toure and Drogba left on the bench.
However, defending champions Zambia served notice of their intention to fight to hold onto their title.
"We are not giving up this Nations Cup without a struggle," said coach Herve Renard after his side beat South Africa 1-0 in Johannesburg.
An Emmanuel Adebayor goal gave Togo a surprise 1-0 away victory in Morocco to send a reminder of their potential as spoilers while Nigeria beat Venezuela 3-1.
Nigeria's makeshift side included a debut for former England under-21 international Shola Ameobi.
All but two of the 16 finalists for the Jan. 19 to Feb. 10 tournament played on Wednesday, though the value of many of the games was undermined by a long list of player withdrawals.
Former Chelsea striker Drogba scored within two minutes of coming on with a long-range shot as the Ivorians fired a warning to their regional rivals.
They have been favourites for the last four Nations Cup tournaments but each time come up short, a record the Elephants will be keen to put straight while in such electric form.
Zambia, who beat the Ivorians in the last final in February, displayed a maturity befitting continental champions in beating South Africa with a 64th minute rocket from Collins Mbesuma.
"We are hungry and we want to win more," said Renard. "We will coming back to South Africa to defend our title."
However, Zambia's win was marred when goalkeeper Kennedy Mweene was injured by rocks thrown through the windows of the team bus as they left the stadium.
Nigeria will have deemed their decision to look at fringe players successful after debutant Ameobi set up a goal for fellow new boy Ogenyi Onazi in their win in Miami.
At 31, Ameobi is a late-comer to international football but now a strong candidate for Nations Cup selection, which will not please his club Newcastle United.
Algeria and Tunisia lost at home to European opposition on Wednesday.
Bosnia beat the Algerians with a stoppage-time goal while Switzerland beat 10-man Tunisia 2-1.
There were victories for Burkina Faso and Ghana, draws for Angola and Niger and a loss for the Demcratic Republic of Congo, who had several players withdraw from the squad at the last moment.
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