You’re looking at the first pictures of Lotus’ new £45,000 GT model. Codenamed ‘Eagle’, the four-seat mid-sized coupe is the company’s most important model since the original Elise, and our spies caught it out in the open for the first time earlier this week.Don’t be deceived by the familiar styling. This Eagle test mule is wearing old Esprit body panels to disguise its origin. Powered by a mid-mounted Toyota V6 thought to be developing around 300bhp, the car’s body structure is based on a stretched version of the Elise’s aluminium monocoque, with an extra row of seats squeezed into the rear.Company boss Mike Kimberley has brought production of the new car forward because he feels this new coupe is vital to Lotus’ rejuvenation. Sales will begin early in 2009, when the ‘Eagle’ will cost a Porsche Cayman S-rivalling £45,000 to £48,000. The Eagle will be available with a semi automatic paddle-shift gearbox – something that Lotus had previously ruled out offering on any of its cars. “That’s what buyers want in the US and Japan,” says Kimberley. Eventually there’ll be seven versions of the Eagle, including a convertible, and it’s widely believed that the new model will make the unpopular Europa obselete in Britain. The Europa may then be hived-off to a Chinese manufacturer. After the Eagle is launched, Lotus will focus on its lower-volume, range-crowning supercar, a successor for the Esprit, due in 2010. While details on the Eagle’s looks remain a closely guarded secret, hence the old Esprit-bodied mule, inside sources suggest it may share similar styling with the M250 concept we saw back in 2000. Concerns have been raised over how Lotus will package a mid-engined 2+2 layout while maintaining sleek and elegant proportions. The M250 was originally canned after being deemed too expensive to engineer in this way.