The past two days I've been riding an '07 Specialized Epic Expert, a $3000 rig. The first day I pretty much hated it. Couldn't get the thing to go. It felt slow, sluggish, and hard to handle. So after the first day I was thinking definitely buying a hardtail. But then I made some minor fit adjustments and got used to the shocks, the handling, and did much better on it. Still wasn't as fast as I'd like to be on some of the uphills and flats but I think some clip-in pedals will make a noticeable difference. I was very thankful for the suspension too on a couple somewhat scary downhills. So after the second day I'm not sure if I really want a hardtail now. Not sure how I would have handled those steep downhills with the rocks, dips, and ruts without the rear suspension.
However, my real dilemma is price! I simply can't afford a $3000 MTB!! Plus, although the Epic was fun and I know the components are good, there's just no way that bike is worth $3000. And I don't want a $3000 MTB after what I put it through today. At one point we came to a dead end on this "squirrel" trail and there was nowhere to go except over a 6' across, 12' deep ravine or backtracking 5 miles. Well, we ended up having to literally throw our bikes across the ravine! Yikes, I would certainly not do that to a $3000 MTB if it were actually mine.
So, long story short, I no longer know what to buy. Hardtail? Full suspension XC? Full suspension all mountain? I'm tempted to buy a cheap hardtail from Performance for $350 and just beat the heck out of it. I'm so confused now.