Vladimir Putin drives a Lada Niva to support Russia's domestic car industry. Never mind that it has a German engine.

The prime minister admitted Monday to outfitting his Russian-made SUV with the German engine, regaling students in the Volga River city of Cheboksary with accounts of the car's performance.

"I won't hide it, the car I bought has an Opel engine," he conceded, referring to the car maker based in Ruesselsheim, Germany.

"It turns out that it's more powerful," he was as quoted by Russian news agencies as saying during his working visit to Cheboksary.

But the candid admission is unlikely to help the Lada's reputation. It has been the butt of jokes since Soviet times, and sales in recent years have dropped as Russian consumers opt for European and Japanese car models.

Indeed, Putin's remark wasn't too far off from the old Russian joke "What do you call a Lada with brakes?"

The answer: Customized.

But Putin has said the Niva could help buck that trend, and insisted the car is worth buying. "They are relatively cheap cars by European standards, and the quality's not bad," he said.

He bought his last summer, painted in camouflage, and flaunted it in the Russian media in hopes of boosting the vehicles' sales despite the financial crisis.

He said Monday his SUV even drew admiring remarks from international sporting officials inspecting mountain venues at the Black Sea resort of Sochi, which is set to host the 2014 Winter Games.

"They liked it, and so do I," he said.