The auto trans are the same, only difference is that you can get paddle shifters.
SMG tend to be very choppy as you said, some like it some dont.
Ide reccomend the active steering, its very nice to have in parking situations.
With the I drive, its been the same sorty since they came out, complicated to use but once you learn how its easy.
With an 08 model alot of the querks have been worked out already so theres not much to go wrong.