Espirt SE, your forum name says it all-go for the Esprit. Its the car you really want. I understand the Toyota/Rover engines of the Elise provide greater reliability and this adds comfort to the purchase of a car but life is short and one must try to live their dreams as much as humanly possible.
Esprits are such underrated cars and as such, they fall into the hands people who like the shape but aren't willing to maintain them properly. This means that there are ALOT of bad Esprits because so many subsequent owners have deferred maintenance. You seem like the sort of person who would be a great custodian of such a car and preserve an Esprit for future generations to enjoy. If an exotic ever needed a sympathetic owner to preserve them, it surely must be the Esprit.
And lets face it, the Esprit has a pukka north-south mid engine layout unlike the Elise, which has a transverse engine, like so many of the Esprit's contemporaries such as the 308/328 and the Urraco/Jalpa. The 911 had a rear engine. Even the Boxer, Testarossa and Countach had compromised mid engine lay outs. Only the BMW M1, Dallara engineered Pantera and The Maserati Bora/Merak had the proper mid engined set-up and as such, proper mid engined handling. Today, all supercars follow the template set by the Esprit.The Esprit really is a like a proper race car for the road. If you read the contemporary road tests comparing the Ferrari to the Lotus, the Ferrari usually came out ahead but not because the Ferrari handled or went better but rather because road testers were seduced by the charisma (beauty of the Pininfarina styling?) of the Ferrari badge. The attributes of the Esprit are more sublime then the equivalent Ferrari-the steering, the ride, the grip, the balance-all better than it's rivals but let down by the Renault gearbox and some poor workmanship. And even these points are debatable. One thing I do admit is that Esprits do not wear well if not not properly maintained. Thats a key question you have to ask yourself? Are you willing to pay for its upkeep?
I recommend, if you haven't already, is to buy Jeremy Walton's various books on the Esprit and decide which model is your favourite and go for it. Me, I'm a G-man (either a dry sump or late HC) but many others prefer the Stevens/Thompson shape. Jemery Walton's favourite is the 1989 SE turbo in BRG. Be resolute in your quest for the right car. Surprisingly, this forum has many ardent fans of the Esprit so its a great start.
I've never driven an Esprit, so I'm just an arm chair fan but I have this lingering memory of a red S3 HC on the over run near the Adelaide Hills and the sound of the wastegate rattling and popping is something I'll never forget. And they say in road tests that the Esprit doesn't have a great sound track. Well, these ears beg to differ. The Esprit on the over run reminded me of the Brabham BMW BT 54 I heard during the '85 Adelaide GP.
P.S I was seduced by the Ferrari badge and got a 308 over an Esprit. My excuse is that the Ferrari 308 was the first exotic I ever saw and that was it-I was hooked. But I do admire those who choose a Lotus over a Ferrari. They are stronger men then me.
P.S.S To all Elise owners, no one denies that the Elise is a brilliant brilliant car only let down by that awful ingress into the cockpit. I lived in Japan for 10 years and I saw many Exiges and Elises and I remember many Japanese girls loved the shape of the Elise. i had two girl friends who thought the Elise was the best looking exotic of all. I also suspect their oh so tight bodies had no problems fitting into the Elise.