I want to avoid starting up in GUI mode. I used to edit /etc/inittab but this does not existing anymore.
/etc/inittab does not exist anymore because last year, in sync with the upstream Debian source, Raspbian switched to using systemd in place of SysV as the init daemon.
Systemd does not use runlevels; the parallel concept would be targets although it is not in many cases an exact parallel (in this context it more or less is, however). Systemd is not specific to Raspian, Debian, or the pi and there is plenty of further reading you can do about it online.
Anyway, in this case
sudo systemctl set-default multi-user.target
Should get you what you want (console based login).
Added Aug/2016: Beware that at least some recent versions of Raspbian "-lite" may use
graphical-target as the default despite the fact that the lite version does not include the GUI fundamentals and hence can only present a console login. Further, if you happen to notice this and change the target to
multi-user, the system will fail to boot with most essential services running. In short someone who did not know what they were doing did something absurd, and hopefully it will get corrected...