Nikon has another 24-85mm lens, the AF Zoom Nikkor 24-85mm f2.8-f4D IF. With an extra half a stop of light coming through the brighter viewfinder image may be worth the extra 15% on the price tag but without the VR the advantage of the aperture is lost unless it is the shallow depth of field you are after.
The f2.8-f4 lens is even older than the predecessor of the VR lens, having been launched in 2000. It does have a DxOMark score a point higher than the VR lens but on balance the quality is so close that the VR really makes the cheaper lens the better deal.
Looking elsewhere the obvious comparison is with the professional standard zoom lenses that are available, specifically the 24-70 f2.8 lenses from Nikon and Tamron.
First we should look at the price, the Nikkor f2.8 lens has an indicative price 3 times as high as our VR lens and the Tamron f2.8 is sits in the middle, just over twice the price of the VR. Is this price difference justified? Well in part it is, both the 2.8 lenses are sharper, their DxOMark scores are 28 for the Nikkor and 29 for the Tamron. Both lenses control distortion better than the VR lens and have lower vignetting too and the Tamron has half the Chromatic aberration.
The comparison is not wholly one sided though: remembering that the Nikkor 2.8 is the most expensive by far of the three it also has considerably more Chromatic aberration and in a very distinct pattern, falling off dramatically from about 12mm from the centre of the image. Processing through DxO Optics Pro would probably put this lens back in the lead of the three but the Tamron f/2.8 with Vibration Control, wider aperture, higher P-Mpix, lower distortion and less Chromatic aberration ‘Out of the Box’ would appear to be the one with the quality edge, if price is not too much of an issue.