Objectives To compare outcomes of targeted treatment aimed at either low disease activity or remission in patients with early active rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Methods Five-year outcomes were compared in 133 patients with early active RA (1987), starting with methotrexate, sulfasalazine and tapered high dose of prednisone (arm 3 of the BehandelStrategieën (Treatment Strategies for Rheumatoid Arthritis) (BeSt) study), targeted at Disease Activity Score (DAS) ≤2.4 (low disease activity), and 175 patients with early RA, starting methotrexate and tapered high dose of prednisone, targeted at DAS <1.6 (selected from IMPROVED study who would have fulfilled inclusion criteria of the BeSt study). Association of treatment target with outcomes DAS <1.6, Boolean remission at year 1 and drug-free DAS remission (DFR) at year 5 were analysed by logistic regression analysis. Results At baseline, DAS <1.6 steered patients had a milder disease than DAS ≤2.4 steered patients (mean DAS 4.1±SD 0.7vs4.4±0.9, p=0.012) and less radiological damage. DAS decrease, functional ability and radiological damage progression over time were similar in both patient groups. DAS ≤2.4 was achieved in similar percentages in both patient groups, but more DAS <1.6 steered patients achieved DAS <1.6 and DFR. DAS <1.6 steered treatment was associated with achieving DAS <1.6 (OR 3.04 (95% CI 1.64 to 5.62)) and Boolean remission (3.03 (1.45 to 6.33)) at year 1 and DFR at year 5 (3.77 (1.51 to 9.43)). Conclusions In patients with early active RA who start with comparable disease-modifying antirheumatic drug+prednisone combination therapy, subsequent DAS <1.6 steered treatment is associated with similar clinical and radiological outcomes over time as DAS ≤2.4 steered treatment; however, in the DAS <1.6 steered group, more patients achieved remission and drug-free remission.