ST. PETERSBURG, Russia — The automotive history of the former Soviet Bloc resonates with cars like the funky Lada, the futuristic Tatra, the clunky but lovable Trabant and the luxurious Volga. Then there was the tanklike Zil — always in black — that shuttled Nikita S. Khrushchev and Alexei N. Kosygin through Red Square.
Most of those car brands are relegated to history. These days, Russians with money to spend are drawn to high-end vehicles from the West: technology-rich sedans, luxury limousines, high-riding sport utility vehicles and names like Cayenne, S-Class and 7 Series.
Over all, car sales in Russia have been in a free fall, driven by Western economic sanctions and the collapse of oil prices, to fewer than 1.5 million last year from nearly three million in 2014. But luxury carmakers such as Porsche, BMW and Mercedes-Benz say they believe that the economic crisis has enticed the rich to take advantage of the weak ruble and invest in high-end cars, which traditionally do not depreciate as much in Russia as they do in the West.
Still, not many people have the ruble equivalent of $50,000 or more to spend on a Porsche. In this country of 143.5 million people — about 45 percent of the population of the United States — Porsche this year expects to sell 6,000 cars, or about 12 percent of the number of vehicles it sold in the United States last year.
For those who can shop for such cars here or in Moscow, the experience is not so different from showrooms in Western Europe or the United States.
The modern steel and glass building that houses the Porsche Center Pulkovo dealership here rises several stories above a highway near the dingy Pulkovo Airport. The ground floor is decorated with slick, sleek sports cars in jelly-bean colors and a high-riding Cayenne S.U.V. Customers waiting for a sales representative or having their vehicles serviced can stretch out on comfortable chairs and watch a flat-panel television showing high-resolution images of Vladimir V. Putin chatting with other men in suits and ties. Some sip cappuccinos from the cafe.
If necessary, affluent Russians might be willing to cut back on other expenses rather than forgo a luxury automobile, according to an analysis by Euromonitor International, a global market research firm based in London.
“A new black German car: That’s the way to go,” said Mykola Golovko, project manager for automotive research for Euromonitor.
But while a black German sedan may be the ultimate driving machine for some, S.U.V.s are expected to make up a third of the overall light-vehicle market in Russia in 2016 “and will grow further,” said Andrey Tomyshev, who heads the Commonwealth of Independent States automotive group for the consulting firm EY. “Customers like S.U.V.s, especially compact ones, taking into account Russia’s specific road infrastructure and weather conditions.”
While used-car flea markets catering to less wealthy buyers pepper the countryside near the major cities, the concept of car as status symbol reigns here.
“The money is concentrated in Moscow, and St. Petersburg is second,” said Vadim Voytenkov, the executive director — essentially, the sales manager — of the Porsche Center Pulkovo. The dealership is owned by Autodom, which also operates BMW, Mercedes and Lamborghini dealerships and has a presence in Moscow.
“It’s about synergy in Russia,” Mr. Voytenkov said. “The father buys an S-Class for himself, a Boxster for his son,” he said, referring to a Mercedes sedan — or “saloon,’’ as it is called here — and a two-seat, convertible Porsche.
Mr. Voytenkov said his store sold about 400 Porsches a year.
The procedure for ordering cars in Russia is similar to that in other Western markets. Most customers at the Porsche dealership get their cars in two months, Mr. Voytenkov said, but the wait can stretch to six months for a “deficit” car in low supply, like the new Porsche Macan, or one with an exclusive, special-order color.
Once customers take delivery, they have 10 days to go to a police station with the sales and insurance documents to register and obtain plates.
This city in many ways embodies the grand Russian tradition. It is home to the Hermitage Museum and monuments to Peter the Great, Alexander Pushkin and Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov — better known as Lenin. There is also the state music conservatory where the Soviet composer Dmitri Shostakovich once taught.
But in a country that for decades officially disavowed the cult of consumerism, there now lives a form of car culture that is also derivative of the Western passion for the automobile.
In the city’s center, one needs venture no further than to the main drag, Nevsky Prospekt, a two-way, eight-lane version of Fifth Avenue, to see the fast and the furious, Russian-style: Retuned Nissans, souped-up Renaults and the occasional modified BMW race up and down, blatting, growling and burping an automotive symphony.