Obtaining an in-depth understanding of the arms races between peptides comprising the innate immune response and bacterial pathogens is of fundamental interest and will inform the development of new antibacterial therapeutics. We investigated whether a whole organism view of antimicrobial peptide (AMP) challenge on Escherichia coli would provide a suitably sophisticated bacterial perspective on AMP mechanism of action. Selecting structurally and physically related AMPs but with expected differences in bactericidal strategy, we monitored changes in bacterial metabolomes, morphological features and gene expression following AMP challenge at sub-lethal concentrations. For each technique, the vast majority of changes were specific to each AMP, with such a plastic response indicating E. coli is highly capable of discriminating between specific antibiotic challenges. Analysis of the ontological profiles generated from the transcriptomic analyses suggests this approach can accurately predict the antibacterial mode of action, providing a fresh, novel perspective for previous functional and biophysical studies.