There is a common perception that European manufacturers, particularly those in Germany, have a special understanding of the needs and desires of car buyers who are looking for exceptional comfort and high performance in a single package. Naturally, the companies involved have done nothing to discourage this belief; Mercedes-Benz and BMW have been particularly active in touting their cars as autobahn thoroughbreds capable of delivering the ultimate driver satisfaction and engineering excellence. At one time, such assertions were probably valid. But today, a host of luxury sedans, some Japanese, some European, can lay claim to spaces in the luxury/ performance car market. INFINITI and Lexus are, of course, players; so are Mercedes, BMW and Audi. In the entry end of the luxury segment lower-priced and smaller-sized end of this market segment, the C-Class Mercedes, 3-Series BMW, Audi A6, Lexus ES300 and GS300, and INFINITI I- and J-30 are all contenders. But U.S. carmakers have been conspicuously absent from this territory. At least until now. With the Catera, Cadillac is hoping to wean customers away from import competitors. Rather than developing an all-new entry, however, Cadillac has called on Opel, General Motors' German subsidiary, to provide its luxurious import-fighter. It's too early to know how the market will respond to the Catera. Even so, as a first attempt by a U.S. company to go head-to-head in an important and highly visible prestige class, Catera is well worth checking out.