The wood around the controls and shifter is real. It is a thin wood veneer bonded to or sandwiched around a piece of aluminum (supposedly to prevent excessive splintering in case of an accident). I have changed all my Zebrano for Walnut Burl and also included walnut on the glove box, the door panels and around the instrument console. Try eBay for some good solutions for a walnut burl upgrade in the $125 - $175 range.
In removing the top center console to fix a corroded light connection, I learned it is a single piece, but is unattached to the rest of the lower console, unlike the later models. This means, in theory, you could remove the top console (AC controls, radio and ashtray) and the center console (shifter, shelf, and rear ashtray) and replace the whole section with a donor single piece from an '87 or newer 190. Incedentally, based on one of the W201 enthusiasts websites (http://www.geocities.com/MotorCity/Boulevard/3949/main.html) the console you and I have was the standard until the "Taxi" console (with room for a meter) was preferred by US buyers as an "update." M-B changed their standard production design to feature their earlier Taxi console with a solid wood panel to cover the Taxi meter section for US 190s.
This could all be bunk, but I don't know that I prefer the Taxi console design any better than the standard on my 190.
You do have a 190 with Climate Control and not with the three knobs, though, right? I think that does look dated...
John J. Meadows
'85 190E 2.3L 99k mi.
My first M-B, not my last.