Publishers attributed this to a major motor show taking place in the first half of the year instead of in October.
BBC Magazines' Top Gear has the largest circulation in the general motoring sector with a total circulation, including international sales, of 152,067.
But Haymarket's What Car? is the strong market leader based on UK sales, with a UK circulation of 146,597 compared with Top Gear's 132,102.
What Car? had an impressive six months, growing 8.7 per cent to reach a total circulation of 149,346. Top Gear grew by 1.1 per cent and Emap's Car lost sales.
Emap's Max Power, the top-selling performance-car title, suffered a decline in circulation in the face of strong competition from Highbury Leisure's Fast Car.
In the weekly market, Dennis' Auto Express posted a 6.7 per cent year-on-year increase while Haymarket's Autocar was down slightly.
Dennis launches Test Drive Monthly in October into a market that has seen little in the way of launch innovation since Dennis launched Evo five years ago.
Phil Parker, the group publishing director of motoring titles at Dennis, says: "We want to do exactly what Evo has done, building a circulation without depending on taking circulation from other magazines."
Verdict Consumers are buying new cars in high numbers so there is room for optimism within the general motoring market. It will be interesting to see if Dennis' launch brings in new, younger readers or cannibalises the market.
TITLE PUBLISHER Total ABC Period- Yr-on-yr
on-period % change
Max Power Emap 205,113 -9.60 -14.40
BBC Top Gear
Magazine BBC Magazines 152,067 1.10 5.20
What Car? Haymarket 149,346 8.70 7.60
Fast Car Highbury Leisure 125,608 0.30 n/a
Car Emap 108,655 -5.00 0.90
Auto Express Dennis 101,015 5.00 6.70
Classic & Sportscar Haymarket 80,036 -3.80 -10.90
Evo Dennis 72,903 3.90 7.60
Source: Audit Bureau of Circulations, January-June 2004.