Droughts cause severe crop losses worldwide and climate change is projected to increase their prevalence in the future. Similar to the situation for many crops, the reference plant Arabidopsis thaliana (Ath) is considered drought-sensitive, whereas, as we demonstrate, its close relatives Arabidopsis lyrata (Aly) and Eutrema salsugineum (Esa) are drought-resistant. To understand the molecular basis for this plasticity we conducted a deep phenotypic, biochemical and transcriptomic comparison using developmentally matched plants. We demonstrate that Aly responds most sensitively to decreasing water availability with early growth reduction, metabolic adaptations and signaling network rewiring. By contrast, Esa is in a constantly prepared mode as evidenced by high basal proline levels, ABA signaling transcripts and late growth responses. The stress-sensitive Ath responds later than Aly and earlier than Esa, although its responses tend to be more extreme. All species detect water scarcity with similar sensitivity; response differences are encoded in downstream signaling and response networks. Moreover, several signaling genes expressed at higher basal levels in both Aly and Esa have been shown to increase water-use efficiency and drought resistance when overexpressed in Ath. Our data demonstrate contrasting strategies of closely related Brassicaceae to achieve drought resistance.