So, I am not a big Eve fanboy (even though I do play), and I have criticized it publicly here on slashdot before (as SimCity in space (which has limited appeal)). And I would love to have good competition in the genre. But (and not to try to be an asshole here), your description of Eve misses the mark of what it is and if the concept you describe has put you off it may be you've misunderstood it from the outset.
You've probably heard it described as a sandbox. That is what it is. I've never seen a 1k x 1k battle, and frankly I've never seen more than a half dozen ships duking it out at a time, and I have never participated in any such battles of any size. What you do and what you see is your choice (that is the point). Elite (the original) had the concept of the sandbox insomuch as there were markets and systems and what you did in the universe was entirely up to you. I hope the games are similar in that way. The point I was making about the OP's remarks was where that sandbox breaks down, and my supposition is that Elite will put limits on the sandbox out of necessity because of the game mechanic the OP was espousing.
You do not ever have to grind in Eve (unlike most MMORPGs which require it to progress). In terms of ability Eve progression is done in real-time (the longer you are a subscriber the more you can progress), but again, in what skills you progress is a decision you can make for yourself. There is no "dps/tank/support" tracks and you should really choose just one or you're going to be lame, etc. There are hundreds if not thousands of skills and they affect how you perform in whichever of the hundreds of ships you choose to pilot, or industries you choose to get into or occupations you try to excel at.
It's not a grind, but it *IS* another job... :)
Is Elite going to excel at gameplay and also at the sandbox? I hope so, but I fear the challenges are huge. I agree with everyone here who has said that it is not enough money (or time). Eve is still working at getting the balance just right and they've been doing it for 10 years.