The title, backed by a £2 million advertising campaign through DFGW, has achieved a debut ABC of more than 100,000. This appears to be largely at the expense of Emap's Car magazine, which was down nearly 10 per cent year on year.
Phil Parker, the group publishing director of Dennis' motoring titles, says he is pleased with the start Test Drive has made, particularly as the ABC accounts for just four issues.
"To break into this sector is a good start. The motoring sector has been pretty stable for a number of years but the launch of Test Drive has expanded the market - it's up more than 100,000 on last year - and with that there's been a few winners and losers," he says. Parker adds that marketing support for the title is going to continue.
Emap promised that the full impact of the appointment of Jason Barlow, who joined the company as the editor of Car late in 2004, has yet to be felt.
Other titles experiencing a decline include Emap's Max Power, which attracts a younger readership. Despite maintaining its leading position over BBC Magazines' Top Gear, it suffered a severe decline, with year-on-year sales falling by more than 15 per cent. Boosted by the enduring success of the BBC TV programme as well as magazine innovations, Top Gear is now within 26,000 copies of stealing Max Power's crown.
Adam Waddell, the publisher of Top Gear Magazine, says: "Subscriptions are a good barometer of how much your core readers love you and Top Gear's are up an impressive 47 per cent with more than 10,000 new subscribers, although not at the expense of newsstand sales, which are also up."
He adds: "Some really focused marketing initiatives such as our groundbreaking lenticular 3-D cover and a period that saw the single biggest-selling issue in the title's history also coincided with the launch of a competing title in the sector."
Emap has little intention of giving up its top spot without a fight, though. Philip Thomas, the managing director of Emap Automotive, promised the company was working hard to deliver more value to Max Power's core readership in 2005.
"Max Power invented the performance sector more than a decade ago, and we remain the innovators," he says.
In third place, Haymarket Publishing's What Car? maintained its year-on-year position although it was down period on period. This probably has more to do with What Car?'s strong first period of 2004, when it capitalised on the presence of a major motor show and the launch of the new numberplate, than a slump in its long-term fortunes.
Dennis' Auto Express and Highbury's Fast Car were down period on period, with Auto Express slipping below the 100,000 mark, while Haymarket's Autocar recorded its lowest ABC ever. "Looking at the whole sector, What Car? and Car have been the main losers," Parker concludes.
Verdict The continuing success of Top Gear has been a large factor in growing the motoring sector, although the launch of Test Drive has injected some additional vigour by attracting new readers to a mature market.
Max Power may need to embark on an extensive marketing campaign or rethink its entire strategy if it is to maintain its lead over Top Gear during the next couple of periods.
TITLE Publisher Total ABC Period-on- Year-on-
% change % change
Max Power Emap 191,019 -6.9 -15.8
BBC Top Gear
Magazine BBC Magazines 165,455 8.8 10.0
What Car? Haymarket 136,748 -8.4 -0.5
Fast Car Highbury Leisure 117,359 -6.6 -6.3
Test Drive Dennis 109,880 n/a n/a
Car Emap 103,272 -5.0 -9.7
Auto Express Dennis 93,292 -7.6 -3.1
Classic & Sports
Car Haymarket 81,125 1.4 -2.5
Redline Future 73,807 1.9 2.4
Evo Dennis 72,474 -0.6 3.3
F1 Racing (UK) Haymarket 72,105 -0.8 14.1
Autocar Haymarket 66,661 -1.4 -3.0