Maize (Zea mays L.) hybrids varying in drought tolerance were treated with water stress in controlled environments. Experiments were performed during vegetative growth and water was withheld for 19 days beginning 17 days after sowing. Genotypic comparisons used measured changes of leaf water potential or results were expressed by time of treatment. Total dry matter of the drought tolerant hybrid on the final harvest was 53% less than that of the intermediate and susceptible maize hybrids when plants were water sufficient. This showed that maize hybrids selected for extreme drought tolerance possessed a dwarf phenotype that affected soil water contents and leaf water potentials. Changes of shoot and root growth, leaf water potential, net photosynthesis and stomatal conductance in response to the time of water stress treatment were diminished when comparing the drought tolerant to the intermediate or susceptible maize hybrids. Genotypic differences were observed in 26 of 40 total foliar metabolites during water stress treatments. Hierarchical clustering revealed that the tolerant maize hybrid initiated the accumulation of stress related metabolites at higher leaf water potentials than either the susceptible or intermediate hybrids. Opposite results occurred when changes of metabolites in maize leaves were expressed temporally. The above results demonstrated that genotypic differences were readily observed by comparing maize hybrids differing in drought tolerance based on either time of treatment or measured leaf water potential. Current findings provided new and potentially important insights into the mechanisms of drought tolerance in maize.