I have paddled dozens and dozens of different kayaks and few to none achieve the liveliness, comfort, speed and agility of the Esprit. I currently own and operate Kayak Jaco (www.kayakjaco.com) in Costa Rica and we use sit-on-tops for 1/2 day outings.
When I get to paddle for pleasure I am using an 18ft Queen Charlotte by Pygmy that I found down here. But I still miss the Esprit. Great boat: if you can find one, buy it.
I would consider buying a new one if Northwest were to return to production and be true to the original. It has a purple-gold metal flake paint job (original) that is a bit faded but it is a wonderful experience each time we go out. I have grown attached to this kayak and unless stolen or lost I will keep it for a very long time and I would advise people to buy one if possible.
Since then we've had the Esprit out about on about a dozen day trips. The boat tracks quite well and carves turns beautifully. Weathercocking is minimal, and the Esprit is quite fast. Initial stability is only moderate, but secondary stability is excellent. We've both had it leaned waaay over during sculling maneuvers and although we are relative beginners the Esprit makes us look like we know what we are doing! I can't speak to the effectiveness of the rudder because we've not yet had a need to use it, even in 12 to 15 knot winds (inland waters). Also, I don't know how well she rolls because I've only mastered the first part of the eskimo roll - the part where you're upside down :). Our only major complaint is the really mushy foot peg system (no rudder lock) but I guess that's not uncommon for boats of this era (1985). Thus the "9" rating.
I called Northwest Kayaks to find out more about the Esprit. The very nice lady there said they stopped making the Esprit about five years ago because people just coming into the sport wanted a boat with softer chines and greater initial stability. She did say that they still received positive calls about the Esprit. She indicated that they still had the molds and could someday return to production if there were ever a demand. So for all you folks out there looking at expensive new boats (I'm still looking at new boats for myself), if you see an older boat advertised nearby, take a look. You might be pleasantly surprised. By the way, don't expect to save that much money. My wife likes the Esprit so much that after the paddling season she wants to have it completely restored and refinished. Along with retrofitting a Sealine rudder/footpeg system, I calculate I'll be into this thing for about $1,600 bucks!