The min standard for road bikes is usually a lot higher than for hybrids. You get what you pay for, and between $400 and $800, a little extra money buys a lot more bike.
Road bikes are not neccessarily less comfortable. Often modern road bikes are sold with very low handlebars, but its quite possible to set up a road bike with the bars in a higher touring position.
One modern style of general purpose road bike is the cyclo-cross/touring bike, like a Bianchi Volpe. They are at home on roads and trails, with or without luggage, with narrow or fat tyres.
A lighter style is the "century" or light touring bike, designed for fast non-racing day tours, such as
If the drop bars worry you, there are a new style of lighter, sportier flat bar bikes, like the Jamis Coda or Specialized Sirrius.
Even on trails, lighter bikes such as these can handle the rough surfaces.
A modern cross-country style MTB can be "roadified" with slick (non-knobbly) tyres for good general purpose riding.
Pick yourself a good bike shop, and try out a few of these styles to see which grabs you best.