Plant drought stress response and resistance are complex biological processes that need to be analyzed at a systems level using genomics and physiological approaches to dissect experimental models that address drought stresses encountered by crops in the field. Toward this goal, a controlled, sublethal, moderate drought (mDr) treatment system was developed in Arabidopsis (Arabidopsis thaliana) as a reproducible assay for the dissection of plant responses to drought. The drought assay was validated using Arabidopsis mutants in abscisic acid (ABA) biosynthesis and signaling displaying drought sensitivity and in jasmonate response mutants showing drought resistance, indicating the crucial role of ABA and jasmonate signaling in drought response and acclimation. A comparative transcriptome analysis of soil water deficit drought stress treatments revealed the similarity of early-stage mDr to progressive drought, identifying common and specific stress-responsive genes and their promoter cis-regulatory elements. The dissection of mDr stress responses using a time-course analysis of biochemical, physiological, and molecular processes revealed early accumulation of ABA and induction of associated signaling genes, coinciding with a decrease in stomatal conductance as an early avoidance response to drought stress. This is accompanied by a peak in the expression of expansin genes involved in cell wall expansion, as a preparatory step toward drought acclimation by the adjustment of the cell wall. The time-course analysis of mDr provides a model with three stages of plant responses: an early priming and preconditioning stage, followed by an intermediate stage preparatory for acclimation, and a late stage of new homeostasis with reduced growth.