Go easy on the 156 interior. There's a difference between dated and retro. When the 156 first came out, motoring journo's commented that the interior brought back memory's of earlier Alfa's especially the separate binnacles for the speedo and rev-counter. Sure, some chrome surrounds for the eyeball vents and instruments would modernise the interior look but apart from that I wouldn't change anything. When the 157 comes out are we going to see comments like "the 147 interior looks dated compared to the new 157"?
Anyway, I don't want to start a 156 vs 147 war here, I just had to come to the defense of the 156. In my mind a great car.
Now, onto the "Changing down to 1st on the Selespeed" discussion. This is one of those things I have mentioned before - the Selespeed program has too much control. I find you have to be assertive with the gearbox program and try to pre-empt what the gearbox is going to do.
I have found that the gearbox will not change down to 1st unless you come to a COMPLETE halt. It changes down through the gears as you slow down - 1000rpm seems to be the trigger point - but will remain in 2nd until you have completely stopped. And once again, I have found that if you are coasting along at a crawl speed without touching the brakes or throttle no amount of tugging on the gearlever will change it back to 1st. This can be frustrating as when you go to accelerate again from say <5mph it's in 2nd and slips the clutch but the acceleration is rather sedate until the rev's rise. This has caused me a few anxious moments when pulling out of intersections in front of other traffic. Flooring it at this point and pulling on the gearlever will produce a sedate change back to 1st but it can be quite rough. I find it easier to manually change back to 1st as I'm slowing on the brakes, that way I'm in the gear I want when I want. As an aside a friend of mine found out that it will change down to 1st at 30mph. He never really got the hang of the gearbox in his short drive - kept on getting confused as to which way to move the gearlever to go up and down the gears (the buttons were beyond him).
I have found that the Selespeed gearbox is not well suited to suburban driving. It's sort of inbetween an automatic and a manual. It is at its best on the open road.