I only recently got my driver's license, and therefore didn't really have enough driving experience for me to allow myself to purchase an expensive vehicle. But I did want some sort of air conditioning.
So I looked around a bit and - given the high depreciation - late 90s Alfas (146, 156) were actually within my budget. While I was looking at Mondeos! After trying the 156 first, I decided it was too much "dad's car" for my tastes, and settled on the tastefully black 146 I now own.
And it's an absolute DREAM! Its excellent cornering (w/ 205 tyres at least) invites you to dive into corners at ludicrous speeds, while at the same time on the motorway you hardly have anything to do because it is so well balanced.
A negative point I want to stress is that at this age the rate of fuel consumption is pretty severe, averaging at about 10 litres per 100km (23mpg). For a car of its size, that's not too good.
But what you may lose financially, you gain in sheer driving pleasure. This car really seems designed to make people appreciate motoring, and if you're a starting driver like myself it is a very good choice indeed.