I got hold on one today for my D100. Cost me about US$540. Took it home and ran some brief tests and the results were, sorry to say, quite bad wide opened at f/3.5. Quite disappointing really. The construction is not as good as it looks either. The distance window flexes when pressed and appears to be made from some cheap plastic. The plastic lens barrel near the filter thread can be made to move sideways when pushed. For a $500+ lens this could have been better. The only bright points are the VR which seems to work and the AF is very fast and silent. Admittedly the effect of the VR did at first seem rather minimal (even at 120mm) that I thought the lens was defective!
I agree with your appraisal. I examined the 24-120VR and the 70-200VR this week, and was quite surprised at the difference: the 24-120 is as you described, but the 70-200 seemed quite well made with metal barrel(as much as I and the salesman could tell)and solid rotating tripod collar, much better than the 80-400VR. The salesman said that Nikon considered the 24-120 a consumer line lens while the 70-200 was considered a 'pro' line product. My original 24-120AF feels more solidly made than the new VR replacement. You can reach your own conclusions.
Indeed, the original 24-120mm is a much better-made lens. I used to own one before I, stupidly, succumbed to the lure of the VR and AFS monikers. Just goes to show new may not always be better. Apparently the blur issue with the VR lens is not a remote case. I've since brought it back to Nikon for inspection. Imagine my disappointment to have to do this for a new lens.
For the price the 70-200VR ought to be better, or Nikon will find itself with another disgruntled customer.