I agree that the default mutt colorscheme is...less than pleasant. Of course, any UI with many elements tends to do poorly with just 8 colors. I converted the vim colorscheme I use (neverland-darker) over to it.
I could see a 'hackish' feeling, but the bindings were the biggest part of that for me. Moving messages is = and then I have tab completion and (session-local) history in the prompt. Tagging files with searches works wonders too to do batch processing of a sort.
I don't imagine we'll convince each other as I find gut feelings are hard to explain and uproot besides and I've been using mutt happily for over a year since moving from KMail.