Objective The study aims to investigate whether in early RA a treatment strategy aiming at Disease Activity Score (DAS) 28 <2.6 is more effective than ‘usual care’ treatment for reaching clinical remission after 1 year. Methods Two early RA inception cohorts from two different regions including patients who fulfilled the American College of Rheumatology criteria for RA were compared. Patients in the tight-control cohort (n=126) were treated according to a DAS28-driven step-up treatment strategy starting with methotrexate, addition of sulphasalazine (SSZ) and exchange of SSZ by anti-tumour necrosis factor in case of failure. Patients in the usual-care cohort (n=126) were treated with methotrexate or SSZ, without DAS28-guided treatment decisions. The primary outcome was the percentage remission (DAS28<2.6) at 1 year. Time to first remission and change in DAS28 were secondary outcomes. Results After 1 year, 55% of tight-control patients had a DAS28<2.6 versus 30% of usual care patients (OR 3.1, 95% CI 1.8 to 5.2). The median time to first remission was 25 weeks for tight control and more than 52 weeks for usual care (p<0.0001). The DAS28 decreased with −2.5 in tight control and −1.5 in usual care (p<0.0001). Conclusion In early RA, a tight control treatment strategy aiming for remission leads to more rapid DAS28 remission and higher percentages of remission after 1 year than does a usual care treatment.